St. Vincent gave Seattle a superbly beautiful sonic seizure at The Moore Theatre last Wednesday. Touring behind her February 2014 self-titled release, St. Vincent has refined and defined herself as a guitarist, singer performer, and ultimately, artist, with a show that is constantly self-referential between performance, visuals, sound, and lyrical content.
Annie Clark, a former member of The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens’ touring band, most recently collaborated with David Byrne for the 2012 record “Love This Giant.” Perhaps these endeavors have cultivated an unapologetically fierce femininity that now saturates her art, from sound to sight.
The coy marionette, clad in black, utilized just enough intentional choreography to enhance the music. Stuttered, robotic movements were reminiscent of her video for “Who” with Byrne, although perhaps more controlled. Alternating angular strobe lights gave Clark’s theatrical shuffling and angular movements a stop-motion effect, and ultimately contributed to the performance art element of the show.
If artistic modernity is based upon reconstructing the preexistent through the kaleidoscope of self, St. Vincent constructed the show masterfully from the start. A recording requesting the audience to enjoy the experience without capturing it digitally was delivered by the Macintosh voice used in Radiohead’s song Fitter Happier.
Then, St. Vincent was off to a running start with Rattlesnake, the first track off the new record, followed by Digital Witness (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVAxUMuhz98), Cruel, and Birth in Reverse, the first single, during which she shuffled forward and backward in opposition to her guitarist/keyboardist.
She then addressed the audience. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. And good evening others.” Clark’s seemingly confessional monologues throughout the set satirically played off her reputation of personal nondisclosure.
“Remember when you started a fire with a magnifying glass? It took 9 hours to light through those Washington clouds, but when that fire started to burn, you felt like a magician,” she said.
Clark told stories of perceived shared experiences with the audience that were just specific enough to lack complete relatability.
“Remember when you were small and you made a parachute from a bed sheet and hoped that it would fly? … Your favorite word is molecular… Your family doesn’t know everything about you.”
The music promptly continued with a new song, “Regret”, and “Laughing With a Mouthful of Blood” from the 2009 record “Actor.” Then, during “I Prefer Your Love,” Clark first interacted with the central fixture on stage, a platform version of the throne from her new album cover. She lay on the platform, rising in a tentative self-embrace during the line “all the good in me is because of you.”
St. Vincent cut the audience open at the end of “Surgeon” as she stood upon the platform and shredded the ending guitar solo to pieces. She climbed to the top tier to proclaim the anthems of Strange Mercy’s “Cheerleader,” followed by “Prince Johnny.”
And then she didn’t just traipse down the platform tiers… she slumped, twisted, rolled, and pulled herself down each level practically in slow motion, keeping the audience’s attention riveted straight into the next song. While the Moore Theatre doesn’t exactly lend itself to crowd surfing due to the chairs, St. Vincent could not be stopped. She flailed, writhed, and surfed her body around the stage solely by her own might.
The set ended to applause sustained long enough for St. Vincent to change into a black miniskirt and the structured black jacket by iimuahii seen in some of her recent photos. She played a solo version of Strange Mercy, the resulting space and silence creating even more emotional space. Her three-piece band joined St. Vincent and powered full-force to the end with “Your Lips Are Red.”
Noveller, Brooklyn guitarist Sarah Lipstate’s solo project, opened the show, marking the halfway point in the 27-city tour with St. Vincent. Lipstate is touring behind “No Dreams,” her sixth full-length, released last fall. The instrumental artist comes close to matching the intensity of Austin band Explosions in the Sky, minus percussion.
Her elegant strength onstage mirrored the thickly pristine, ambient wash of her guitar loops, driven by frenzied distortion and dramatic delay. She singularly commanded the entire stage like an interpretive black magic dancer summoning forth mammoth waves of thick, warm sound.
Sustained orchestral drones left few holes in the sonic space from rumbling lows to piercing highs. At times, Noveller sounded comparable to watching a film with audio and visual slightly out of sync: one heard the clear, acoustic pluck of a string, saw her hand slide down the fretboard, or followed the slice of a violin bow on electric guitar, and only later heard the sound explode in aggravated electricity.