A FULL-SCALE TECHNICAL FAILURE A COUPLE OF MINUTES INTO ST VINCENT’S LEEDS GIG THREATENS TO CLOSE THE LID ON ANNIE CLARK’S CAREFULLY CONSTRUCTED CHARACTER.
Tour already blighted by an airline failing to courier essential equipment, a pulled-together rig of hired and borrowed black boxes crashes completely during opener RATTLESNAKE. Angular grooves, deep end digital burbles and slashing guitar are brought to the abruptest of halts; only analogue drums thump out across the University venue for the remainder of what should have been song. Perhaps the most dangerous part of the evening, it’s a curious thrill to see what happens when control is snatched away from an artist always so precise, specific, exact, in the delivery of what is largely esoteric material. While band members leave the stage and bemused crew enter it, Clark – without any amplification – banters for ten minutes, tells a ribald joke and then flees after downing a large cup of wine.
A good half-an-hour and more later stage power is restored and house lights dim for take two – but having peered behind the curtain and seen the Wizard to be mere flesh and blood, it’s difficult to imagine how the glacial command integral to Clark’s sci-fi art-energy might similarly be switched back on. Instantly, though, it is. Stage lights burst in full glare from the first beat of the first bar of DIGITAL WITNESS; “I want all of your mind,” she sings – and takes it.
Sitting at the top of a block-staircase and affecting a feminine vulnerability, I PREFER YOUR LOVE plays as a torch song at odds with the strident confidence of the rest of the set. These are the stairs on which, two or three songs from now, Clark will slowly crawl into an inverted position and ‘die’ while her three-piece band struggle to contain a maelstrom of noise. Whether through guitar work which borders Adrian Belew’s inventive dissonance, the occasionally dense prog-rock arrangements, bleak rockin’ beats and muscular electro, or the mannered hand gestures and simple but breathtaking synchronised choreography (at one point Clark and multi-instrumentalist Toko Yasuda short-step past each other like a Swiss clock horror-show), St Vincent’s freak-pop spectacle pulls all attention – and keeps it. Most of the recent eponymous album gets an outing before the odd and beautiful encore of STRANGE MERCY (during which a pin could have dropped only to be drowned out by a couple of chiming mobile phones) and YOUR LIPS ARE RED, with briefly nightmarish New York connotation “This city’s black from all the ashes in downtown”.
Existing somewhere in the space between Bowie, Byrne and Björk it’s all compelling and thoughtful and clearly means something, but can often feel airtight and impenetrable. To admire, enjoy or study? That delicate balance is almost certainly the point. Despite seeming to drop her guard during tonight’s unplanned intermission, the question remains: who exactly is Annie Clark? Is St Vincent only half an answer or none at all? Keep looking and see less. Mesmerising.