St. Vincent. Fillmore Auditorium. 01.15.18
Some nights are just strange in a way that cannot be explained. Maybe all nights are, and we just miss out on the extraordinary because we are so focused on the stimulus we receive from the ordinary. There is nothing wrong with meeting a group of friends to grab a few drinks, recap the day, reminisce about other times you’ve been out together, and catch a show. That is literally my favorite thing to do. But going out alone is a completely different experience. If you allow it (i.e. leave your phone in your pocket), solo adventures leave you open to experiencing the strange.
You’ll learn your Uber driver is an ex-drag car racer, current horror novelist, and amateur banjo player. He will introduce you to a few bluegrass bands and you’ll convince him to check out St. Vincent based on his love of Talking Heads.
You will really see the faces of those who live on Colfax Ave., and even though you might not have the change to help them out, you’ll look them in the eye and talk to them like the human beings they are.
You’ll notice how things seem to move slower, and sounds seem muffled, when the temperature drops below 12°F.
Once inside the Fillmore, you’ll notice how quiet it is for a packed house, eerily so, and you’ll admire the chandeliers and aesthetic, even though you’ll still despise it as a venue. You’ll appreciate the diversity of the crowd and feel proud of your city for recognizing a talent like Annie Clark.
As you’re overcharged for a beer, you’ll realize nothing really differentiates this night from any other; it just feels odd because the background noise has become the feature presentation.
And then the lights will go down, the curtains will split to expose a single spotlight, and St. Vincent will appear in a pink pleather body suit, with thigh-high boots and a choker to match.
Annie Clark is a narcissistic chameleon. That is a harsh statement and might be completely false. She does play one of stage though. Over the past decade she has been a slightly old-fashioned, curly haired singer-songwriter; a broken-jawed, Victorian experimentalist performing alongside David Byrne and backed by a badass brass section; a silver-haired art pop queen; and a slicked out, future fearing, hyper-colored critic of consumerism. Every release since Strange Mercy has unveiled a new version of the St. Vincent character, but each one has had something in common…the physical representation of the artist is as important as the art itself. The MASSEDUCTION videos and “Fear the Future Tour” take this exposure of St. Vincent as a physical being to another level.
The set opened with “Marry Me”, from the debut album of the same name. The sound was absolutely perfect, which is a rare thing for the Fillmore. St. Vincent was brightly lit, in all her hot-pink glory, as she stood in a small slit where the curtain had been opened, stage right. No instruments, no band, no distractions. Just a woman, crisp vocals, and backing track. A white guitar was brought out for “Now, Now”, and it became the one live instrument to be played throughout the entire set. And damn, did she make it count. Her solo during the outro for that track (“you don’t mean that, say you’re sorry”) was augmented by seizure-inducing strobes as she attacked the guitar with full 70’s psychedelic fervor. It was the first of what would be many examples of Clark’s remarkable guitar skills.
The current incarnation of St. Vincent is unrecognizable from what came before, but appearance did nothing to diminish past material as she chronologically worked her way through songs from Marry Me, Actor, Strange Mercy, and her self-titled album from 2014. Finding her way closer to center stage with each selection, and swapping out guitars for every other song, it wasn’t until “Cheerleader” when she found herself in line with the soundboard. Unfortunately, that was the first song to experience issues with the pre-recorded backing track. The sound issues were dealt with almost immediately, but the glitch was an unwelcome reminder that we were being denied a true concert experience with a full band. The magic St. Vincent had used to hold us in place has failed for split second and, as if in response, the entire stage and venue went pitch dark when the song ended.
When the lights came back up, the sole performer of the night was crouched down, performing “Strange Mercy”, with a cartoonish female vampire face hovering above. Some people in zentai suits brought out another guitar and mic stand after the last verse, because “The world is on fire, but no matter how insane shit gets, there’s always something to dance to!” And so, we danced, to “Digital Witness”, and all was good once again. And even though she threw the word “Denver” into “Rattlesnake”, as in “Are we alone Denver? Fuck no!”, it all continued to seem more like a one-woman musical than it did a concert; even as the first set finished with a roaring rendition of “Birth in Reverse”.
40 minutes and 10 songs in, we made it to the MASSEDUCTION portion of the show. As much as the first half felt like a musical, the second half felt like a live music video. And I don’t mean for either of those comments to come across as negative in any way. In fact, the whole performance was completely enthralling. What could have been a complete bore in lesser hands, was close to flawless because St. Vincent is such fascinating character.
The second set was MASSEDUCTION front-to-back. It started with the image of Annie’s face on the big screen, gradually zooming in on her eyes, until Annie herself reemerged in a sparking, silver mini-dress with matching boots. The music videos for each song, staring Annie, played on the giant LED screen behind her as she worked her way through her latest release. She tiptoe danced through “Pills”, proved how far she’d come from her singer/songwriter roots during the title track, and dedicated “Sugarboy” to “all the girls…all the boys…and everyone else who doesn’t fit neatly into those boxes,” before projecting more and more photos of herself above herself.
If you’re going to be a narcissist, it helps to be one of the most interesting people on the planet.
Every engagement seemed scripted, but by design. I didn’t want to know the woman behind the mask any more than I want to see an actor to break the fourth wall during the dramatic climax of a film.
Or did I?
“Savior” had just finished, and everyone was anticipating “New York”. It was sure to be a highlight of the night, but then the unexpected happened. Annie Clark spoke to us. Really spoke to us.
“Hello Denver. I am so happy to be here. I ate so many edibles that I’m practically incapacitated,” she joked, before admitting “I really didn’t.” It was your usual city-specific banter, but then the underwear arrived on stage, courtesy of a fan, and the fourth wall was shattered as she went on a spiel about receiving gifts from fans. But never underwear. “I can’t decide if I hope it’s clean or dirty.” This led into an extended observation about the sexiness of various brands of undergarments, including the lack of sexiness in Target’s Gilligan & O’Malley intimate collection. “I am 80% Irish and that is 80% unsexy.” The laughs relieved some tension in the room; tension I didn’t realize existed until it was gone.
After stumbling through a few Denver references, again proving she was an actual ‘living breathing girl’ up there, she said “thank you for the panties,” and then took us to “New York”.
The album cycle continued, and it was amazing to hear one of my favorites from 2017 performed in its entirety, but I feel like the show peaked a little early. After the panties speech and “New York”, everything seemed a bit subdued as the end grew closer. The backing track became more obvious, the crowd started to thin out, and thoughts of the real world started to seep in. It was during “Slow Disco” when I realized I was still drinking the same overpriced beer I bought almost two hours earlier. That was how captivated I had been. But by the time “Smoking Section” started, I had given up my spot mid-auditorium and was positioned near the exit, ready to get one of the first Ubers out.
Back on Colfax, where the temperature had dropped to single digits, I got that strange feeling again. The show was unlike any I had experienced. On one hand, it was a huge art pop production worthy of a stadium crowd; on the other hand, it was a one-woman show with a pre-recorded backing track. I attended solo, so I was alone and had no one to talk to about it. And I was 100% sober because I literally forgot to drink. I thought about trying to explain it to my Uber driver on the way home, but it was too fresh, and I couldn’t put it into words.
All I knew was I had witnessed something extraordinary, on what might have been an ordinary night after all.
Actor Out of Work
Birth in Reverse
Hang on Me
Happy Birthday, Johnny
Fear the Future
Dancing With a Ghost