Outside the Bubble: St. Vincent at Leeds Met

Annie Clark is…St. Vincent

Nothing like a Leeds crowd to bring an alien back down to earth.

But first, Arc Isis, multi-instrumentalists from across the pond. At first impression, it’s hard to pin the sounds down. Classical sweeps, underpinned by bluegrass baselines, with quirky singsong lyrics that have a sinister feel of a circus show gone sour. In a song like “Singing So Sweetly”, there’s a feel not dissimilar to someone like Regina Spektor or Joanna Newsom – they’re not afraid to experiment with their sounds. Filled with fresh and kooky harmonies, the musicianship was stunning – the keyboardist in particular hammering out rag time ditties with bouncing curly hair. But something feels missing somehow. Perhaps some bass is needed, some drums, some-thing, just to make the sound stronger or sharper. Maybe there are some band members missing. But it’s an intriguing set, short and sweet, and flexes the crowd for some sweet swaying.

A short while letter, after a scurrying of dark dressed men and a pyramid stage, we hear the crackles and snaps of some van der graaff like synth. On comes St. Vincent, mad scientist hair swept lavishly, a golden flower bob on her shoulder. We’re a long way away from the classical days of her first album Marry Me, as the opener Rattlesnake is keen to thrash out. This is an opener that throws together jazzy synths and shuffly drums. There’s all the antics here, the shuffling of tip-toes, robotic sweeps of the arm and eyes glazed. A crunchy guitar solo begins…

and then, then, then, nothing. Music stops, lights off, bemused faces all round. Suddenly the alien persona is broken – there’s a rare wicked smile, the eyes come unglazed, and we see a glimpse of the real Annie Clarke. She’s feisty and unhinged: “What’s the difference between jam and jelly?” she ponders aloud… and waits… her answer perhaps too strong to put here, but let’s say she’s not afraid to raise a few eyebrows…

Whisked offstage, there’s chaos on the stage. Three-turned-quickly-to-five-or-six middle aged men plod around the stage with torches. Lifting random cables, frowning, wincing – things don’t look good. 15 frustrating minutes later and they think they’ve found something – “that looks good, stick that thing back in again!” in a thick Yorkshire twang. No such luck, back to the plodding and torches. After a long while…a loud thud. The band, despite the early feedback, soon get into a groove.

And we’re away, a wild bunch of songs from the recent self titled album. We hear the galactic arpeggios and roar of “Huey Newton”, the entwined, angular harmonies of “Give Me Your Love”, and the single “Digital Witness”, a typically cryptic warning against the perils of modern technology.

There’s some kind of dancing in the crowd –a kind of sway, a bobbing of heads and a fumbly tapping of hands against pockets. It’s unconventional… but it’s pop. Underneath all of this is the sheet power of the guitar solo’s… her tone is crunchy… it’s raw…. it snarls and bites through the jazzy interludes and earthy bass tones.

With every release that passes, St. Vincent shows a stunning transformation – each more slightly more edgy and electrifying. But her composition is strong throughout, and her performances tease at something rare and daring. This is shown no stronger than her finale, “Your Lips are Red” – an eerie tale reworked into this crazy frothing beast of a solo. So much so that the tecchy was left to finish as Annie Clarke rolled around on the ground.

So a great gig all round, and a special one. For someone who builds themselves on their aloofness and mystique, to see a glimpse underneath was even wilder and brighter. For that reason, and at the risk of angry mobs throwing tomatoes at me, maybe a few more power outages aren’t always a bad thing…

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