St. Vincent at Sokol Auditorium, April 1, 2014.
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Annie Clark looked like a kabuki toy standing center stage in her pretty outfit, a field of red rose petals covered the front across and down her skirt, her face painted / powdered white, cheeks blushed with rouge, her hair bleached and punk, a porcelain anime doll with big round eyes, a beautiful painting incomplete until the tech walked out and handed her a black electric guitar.
Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, her voice thin and raspy, stared straight forward while she sang. When she wasn’t plucking out an electronic melody on her ax, she moved and bent and contorted her arms like a pantomime robot, doing Shields and Yarnell (look it up) with her fellow guitarist / keyboardist / vocalist. If Clark learned anything from touring with David Byrne it’s how to “dance” like an alien life form trying to communicate through arm gestures and hand signals. I don’t remember such theatrics the last time she came through town, so I have no choice but to blame Byrne who made a career out of his geek spastic dance motions throughout his time as a Talking Head.
I like it when Byrne does it; it seemed to make sense with his music. I don’t mind it when Clark does it, either, though her actions felt disconnected to what she was singing, as if she were trying to force a mechanical element onto something meant to be purely organic. The same thing can be said about her music. While I like the sterile beats, the oddly archaic rhythm-cut instrumentation (contrasted by a sonic blanket of synths), too often her melodies were reduced to elevating vocal tones crawling up and down a pentatonic scale.
All the while, Annie Clark was hatchet lit from below or shadowed by blazing-white LED panels that burned the retinas of a packed house who stood mesmerized more than moved by her music.
Between song sections, Clark performed short, pre-written monologues recited dryly and rehearsed. She told stories of how she and us weren’t so different. In fact, we were the same, as evidenced by her shared memories of lighting fires with a magnifying glass, feeling ill after telling a lie, admitting that her (our) friends don’t know us as well as they think they do.
I’m sure turning her concert into prolonged musical theater sounded like a good idea during tour rehearsals. The whole are-we-not-human? shtick worked well for Devo because it was weird and different and their matching jumpsuits made you want to believe it. Costumes are everything. I’d like to tell you that it was more interesting than previous St. Vincent shows, but it wasn’t. It looked and felt forced and uncomfortable, purposely rigid and thoroughly counter to the loose-and-rough spontaneity of rock. Instead, it was more of an attempt at art rock, but without the limitlessness of a Laurie Anderson.
Worst of all, after about a half hour, it became boring.
I fear that the bigger Clark/Vincent gets, the more disconnected she’ll become with her audience. I liked her better when she spontaneously paced around stage with her guitar and blazed the fretboard with the confidence of Prince. We saw a glimpse of the old Annie during the encore. After a quick wardrobe change, Clark reappeared alone on top of a tower of boxes and performed a sweet version of “Strange Mercy” off the 2011 album of the same name. For the first time that evening, her guitar sounded like a guitar, and her voice sounded oh so human.
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If you’re looking for a set list for (and a different perspective of) last night’s show, Kevin Coffey has both at the OWH website, here.
With this show and last Saturday’s Neutral Milk Hotel show, I can’t remember Sokol Auditorium sounding better, in fact sounding better then I ever thought it could. I’ve seen some boomy shows at the ol’ gymnasium/dance hall (Regina Spektor comes to mind). Today’s audio technology can make any room sound awesome. Sokol has always been an alternative for shows too big for Slowdown. Now it no longer seems like a compromise. Conor, The Faint and Manchester Orchestra are all booked at Sokol for upcoming shows. Get your tix while you can.
I’ve also figured out how to park at sold-out Sokol shows — just put it on 16th St. and walk down the hill. When the show’s over, it’s a straight shot back to downtown.
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There’s another in this week-long string of amazing show going on tonight.
Warpaint plays at The Waiting Room. The band’s new self-titled album, released on Rough Trade, was produced by Flood (PJ Harvey, U2, New Order) and is one of my favorites this year (I like it a lot more than the new St. Vincent record). And get this: Digital Leather is opening. $17, 9 p.m. See you there.
Also tonight, And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead plays at The Slowdown. They’ll be performing Source Tags and Codes. La Femme opens. $20, 8 p.m.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.