Words by Jeb Gavin, photos by Farrah Skeiky
Remember this- for safety’s sake: weirdness is not for amateurs. This is not the most important information one can glean having seen St. Vincent at the 9:30 Club this past Saturday night, but it is still good to know. Days later, I am still sorting through the wreckage of my memories of the night. Annie Clark is quite literally a teacup-sized tempest, and her live show might be the most accessible piece of performance art I’ve ever experienced.
To clarify, when I say weirdness, it’s not derogatory. Weirdness is not in and of itself negative. But the kind of weirdness which ends up on stage at a concert tends to be mediocre artifice, unnecessary at best. Watching St. Vincent on stage performing choreographed mannequin-come-to-life dance moves with a guitar hanging around her neck made me contrast it against the extraordinarily pointless paper mache costumes and Oingo Boingo aping antics from an of Montreal show I attended at the 9:30 Club several years ago. Curious coincidence- the opener that night? The only person whose stage show equals that of St. Vincent in a mirror-mirror manner: Janelle Monáe.
Amateur weirdness is off-putting. We want to be able to relate to people, so full bore, sitting next to you at a bus stop weirdness is alienating. It throws up useless barriers, rather than drawing attention to the uselessness of barriers. Clark, reeling off Marnie Stern guitar licks as natural as snapping her fingers, sounds as unique as any person I could imagine- her music draws a graceful, if somewhat jarring line from former Polyphonic Spree member to David Byrne collaborator. And yet despite the pedigree, the show didn’t feel like a recital by some acclaimed, holier than thou up-and-coming literati. The music is clever and energetic and never insular. Everyone is in on the joke, this utterly gorgeous creature rising towards her creative zenith proclaiming to the audience she knows them… in a monologue not out of place in an episode of Welcome to Night Vale.
Weirdness is using everything to maximum effect, even the space around you. The giant white monolith on stage was both a riser and a contrast to the gray on black backdrop onto which was projected the sort of tilt-shift lighting one might expect from a Flaming Lips show. Instead St. Vincent alternately stood on top of the set piece and melted into it after songs, depending on the tone and intended response. At one point she lounged on a hidden ledge in front, in nearly the same place Marina from Marina and the Diamonds lounged on a chaise during her show a year and a half ago. St. Vincent sounds and looks like Marina would look had she been obsessed with Doctor Who rather than Twin Peaks.
All of it, Andy Warhol hair styled like Dana/The Gatekeeper in Ghostbusters, the dress covered in either organza flowers or organza human viscera, even the keyboardist off in the back corner bearing a striking resemblance to deceased German artist Joseph Beuys, it all fits into the notion of Performance, rather than just a performance. I don’t think I blinked for the better part of two hours for fear of missing out on someone of unique vision riffle-shuffling a Oblique Strategies deck live and in person. This was more a happening than a concert, a communal experience, during which some very good songs were played. Nothing about it was trivial, thus revealing the underlying truth of art: it is the trivial way we find common truths, however briefly. Weirdness just cuts through the bullshit.