If You Experience One Show in Your Lifetime: St. Vincent
May 21, 2018
The Fillmore, NC
It’s happened. After a 2 1/2 year hiatus from Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend, St. Vincent has inspired me to write again.
During the past few years, I’ve been to hundreds of additional concerts, several of them outstanding. I’ve considered writing about some of those shows, but then life moved on, another show happened, and the backlog grew greater than Game of Thrones, thus becoming insurmountable. So here we are: nearly halfway through 2018. . . and I can’t stop thinking about a show I experienced 6 nights ago, nor the St. Vincent shows which preceded it earlier this year.
Now I have a new challenge: finding the words to describe Annie Clark and what it feels like to go on a journey with St. Vincent. Every adjective that comes to mind feels cliche when I consider using it in conjunction with Clark or her work. Some say “genius” and I agree, she is brilliant. “Genius” can infer that things come easy, but it’s Clark’s passion and dedication, in conjunction with her brilliance that consistently raise the bar with everything she does. What she puts into her music, art, storytelling, and shows, is undeniable – and potentially undefinable – when you experience it.
She’s exceptionally thoughtful, seemingly about everything she does. From writing to recording, production, artwork, creative vision, humorous album rollout, unconventional ‘press conference’, and performance. It’s clear her intention is to deliver the highest quality in all that she creates, and she does so masterfully. While thoughtful, it doesn’t feel contrived. It’s not a construct of her mind “thinking”. It’s the way she creates, and you can feel it coming from the heart (a cliche, but not in this case). You feel how deeply she cares, and that she cares because she’s creating for you.
The best analogy I can think of to describe Clark is the Galapagos. There are species which exist only in the Galapagos, nowhere else on the planet. Within the archipelago itself, there are plants and animals which exist solely on one of the islands, not the others. Traveling through the Galapagos, we saw things we’d never encountered before, which could not be defined by any word in our vocabulary nor fit into a familiar category. There was a bird-creature which looked most like a flamingo, but wasn’t; and a tree with the trunk of a palm tree, but each of its colossal branches resembled a pine tree. The brain short-circuits a bit, trying to make sense of what you’re seeing, and you become overwhelmed with awe. When you ask a Naturalist, “What is that??”, you learn there is no common word for it, just binomial nomenclature defining its genus and species. Terms you’ll likely not remember unless you’re fluent in Latin.
Now that we’ve established Clark is like the Galapagos and no description can do her justice, I will face the challenge and attempt to share my experience of seeing St. Vincent live. Perhaps it will inspire you to do the same. If I had resumed writing sooner, I would have covered St. Vincent Fear The Future at The Palladium in January, as well as I’m A Lot Like You at The Orpheum in April. Both are among the best shows I’ve experienced and similarly left me without words sufficient to describe them.
Fear The Future was an innovative and bold exploration of St. Vincent’s evolution. Clark played solo, performing select songs from her earlier work, chronologically, culminating with a performance of her latest release, Masseduction, start to finish. As you journeyed through the time capsule with St. Vincent, song by song, another layer was peeled away, and you got to delve deeper. Visually, during the retrospective portion of the show, panels were removed from the stage, one by one, revealing more of St. Vincent each time. In my interpretation, an allegory for the evolution of Clark and her music. She is allowing us in further, revealing more, courageous in the face of vulnerability, powerful in Masseduction.
If anyone else were doing it, the show at The Orpheum in April would have been considered a “warm up” for Coachella and festival season. However, the way Clark did it, this initial performance of I’m A Lot Like You transformed the intimate indoor venue into a boundless space, which felt even larger than a festival. The band was back this time around, along with immersive lighting and visuals. The show was thematically, sonically, and visually powerful. Then, as we traveled toward the few remaining songs, Clark spoke about love and imagining the many experiences people must have shared in the venue historically. Her badassery and strength is rooted in her humanity and heart. The show transcended space, time, and form. I was not an audience member at a concert, we were not on Earth. I was 100% sober, having a phenomenal trip. That’s when I committed to seeing St. Vincent at least once more this year.
“Rattlesnake” at The Orpheum – April 11, 2018
Prior to the cancellation of FYF Fest, and with persistent reminders that nothing else of this caliber was happening, certainly not with any frequency, I started looking into other cities where I could experience St. Vincent and the I’m A Lot Like You tour again. I love traveling and especially enjoy going to concerts in unfamiliar places, where adventure and discovery are inherent, the people and sights are new. I settled on Charlotte, North Carolina. Tickets purchased, car rented, hotel booked. After wandering downtown, exploring museums and parks, I made my way to The Fillmore in time for the VIP Q&A. What was it like?
Clark entered the room, proclaiming her outfit “Unabomber Chic” and sang a couple songs, acoustic. No lights, set, band, visuals, nor elaborate wardrobe, and still able to transport us from the physical world we know to a timeless place and dreamlike state. Her voice is spectacular and mesmerizing. She’s playful and entirely present. She is genuine and generous, and without words, has a way of imparting that she is doing this for you; she sincerely cares. She doesn’t merely make you feel that way, it emanates from her core. It’s who she is.
Following the songs, what was billed as a “Q&A” (for lack of a better description, I imagine) was a dynamic conversation. Clark asked us questions, and we shared stories and asked her questions. In response to any topic, Clark has a relevant and entertaining story. There are as many funny asides as there are “answers”. This is when I saw something else magnificent in Clark: she is an exceptional listener. Any time someone asked a question or shared a story, she listened well beyond the words they were speaking, absorbing the subtext, inflections, tone, and body language, and would respond to the often unspoken, but actual crux of the conversation.
Her responses were similarly manifold and meaningful. While everyone was just getting to know each other in that moment, the vibe and conversation was more akin to gathering in a living room with long-time, good, friends. It offered insight into how Clark is so attune, empathetic, and able to deeply connect. Extrapolating the attentiveness with which she listens to people to how she must observe and intake the world, I got a glimpse into Clark’s creative proficiency (and potentially, her oft referenced anxiety).
Equally magical to experience was Clark’s presence. We live in a world with infinite distractions, devices, and 140-character attention spans, but Clark is wholly present. That is a gift which breaks down the barrier of time. We all have access to a time machine – it’s our own presence and attentiveness in any given moment. Clark does it so skillfully, she brings everyone along for the ride. Experiencing this during the intimate conversation, illuminated how St. Vincent shows transcend space and time.
After thanking us for being there and acknowledging each “thank you” in return, Clark disappeared to get ready for the show, and the rest of us continued the conversation. The doors opened and the venue filled quickly. People traveled from around the country to be there. I don’t recall meeting one person who was from Charlotte, North Carolina. The energy shifted from quiet evening at home with friends to anticipation of the biggest party of the year. The forthcoming show would be spectacular, not taken for granted, but a given – it’s St. Vincent. Throughout the evolution, Clark’s commitment to quality remains constant.
The house lights dimmed, the band took the stage, and St. Vincent took us on another journey, kicking off, full force, with “Sugarboy”. I am not one of those people who “forgets to eat”, but I could watch Clark play guitar for days on end and imagine I would forget to eat. It is captivating. The earlier conversation among friends was now amplified on stage: Clark is someone who cares deeply about humanity, putting forth the best, and who doesn’t simply “deliver”, but magnetically invites and transports you to a spectacular, limitless place.
The band is outstanding, the show is magnificent, Clark’s voice and performance impeccable, you get lost in the way she commands the guitar. There’s silence, followed by an uproar of cheers when she hits the high notes in “Young Lover.” There was no doubt she would do it, but people created the space to absorb and then celebrate each moment.
Even though I know how the song goes, I always forget how hard “Huey Newton” hits. That’s by design and it works every time. The same holds true for “Digital Witness”, “Masseduction”, “Marrow” and each song in the setlist. All the times I’ve heard these songs and seen them performed live, and they feel new and astonishing with each performance.
It feels personal. You can be surrounded by hundreds or tens of thousands of people, and feel as though Clark is performing specifically, and solely, for you. A friend of mine, who saw St. Vincent in Manchester in 2014 told me of his experience, “I think she felt the joy I was receiving from the show, so she kept giving me more.” If you read Tweets or Instagram posts following St. Vincent shows, you will see similar sentiments echoed: “she winked at me,” “she smiled at me”, “she played to me”. . .
During the gathering-of-friends conversation earlier in the night, I asked if she now knows what to do should she encounter a rattlesnake in the wild. There was laughter and some suggestions from people in the room. But St. Vincent’s answer to the question came hours later, when she performed “Rattlesnake”. She stepped forward, acknowledged me with a playful and daring look, and then dropped to her knees and responded:
The more present you are, the more immersed you become, the harder you go, the harder she goes. Presence makes the concept of time vanish and communion eliminates the physical space. You are transported, transfixed, and transformed.
What came through most strongly to me is that Clark desires that everyone is well and happy, living their best life. And if she can contribute to that creatively, it’s what she wants to do – it’s what she’s here to do. Between songs, she acknowledges and responds to each shouted “I love you,” just as she shared in the moments of gratitude with us during the earlier conversation. The show concludes, and you walk away with that reflection of gratitude, strength, vulnerability, community, support, energy, badassness, happiness, and love. I’m A Lot Like You. Go.
And perhaps take a trip to The Galapagos one day. I’m off to figure out where I’m going to see St. Vincent next.
Sugarboy at The Orpheum, April 11, 2018:
Severed Crossed Fingers at The Fillmore, NC. May 21, 2018: