Have you ever come out of a concert scratching your head filled with odd questions that you keep asking yourself?
"I really liked that, didn’t I?" Or, "Was that awesome or just kind of weird?" Or, "St. Vincent is really sexy for a robot."
OK, that last one isn’t a question.
Rewind three hours:
Walking down a crowded Mass. street, running late and rushing to get to Liberty Hall to see St. Vincent, I was thinking about her latest album I’d hurriedly listened to in preparation for the show.
It’s called Strange Mercy, was released about a month ago and it instantly received praise for its clashes of elements. It’s a difficult album that includes odd metrics, dissonance, but yet still manages to display a certain volume of pop hook to it.
Sounds weird, right?
So I didn’t have a real solid expectation for this show other than I thought it would be an interesting performance. St. Vincent has become a critical darling over the span of three albums in the last three years but her style is so mercurial.
Let’s just say that by the end of the show, I still had no idea.
St. Vincent was genuinely original, energetic, and a bit off-putting at the same time.
She appeared on the Liberty Hall stage looking poised and perfect, in a sparkly black top. She said nothing to the crowd as a single white spot followed her to the front of the stage. She gazed slowly to her left, then scanned back across the audience, with gleaming white china doll skin and huge baby deer eyes carefully evaluating the scene.
Expressionless, St. Vincent picked up an electric guitar and launched into Chloe in the Afternoon, the first track off the new record, but something was amiss. The sound guys were scurrying, and about fifteen seconds in, she stopped playing and said, "Let’s try this again but with guitar this time."
She started the song over, and buzzing, chunky guitar led the way.
Her backing band, which consists of a drummer, a keyboard, and a guy on some sort of effects console or laptop, was flawless all night. They waxed and waned admirably, creating an odd soundscape of beats and thunderous bass. On which St. Vincent placed thrashed out metal guitar riffs featuring tones tripped out to sound like a barry sax at times, and at other times like a UFO making the jump to hyper space.
Again, sounds weird, but stick with me.
St. Vincent’s vocal style is what I would call traditional in a technical sense. You know, she could sing folk songs, or pop songs, or whatever. Where they get unique is in the odd meter and almost melody-less presentation, which at times reminded me a little of Bjork.
For the first four or five songs St. Vincent appeared a little rigid – but comfortable – measured. She didn’t talk to the audience at all, and after each song all the lights went black, leaving the theater quiet and dark until some fan inevitably shouted something to break up the monotony.
Then, about two thirds through the set, everything changed. St. Vincent told a story about her days growing up in Oklahoma, and visiting Lawrence as a kid, getting drunk and partying underage. Her friend, she said, told her to make the audience wave the wheat. "But that’s a little too much pandering for me. I mean, you don’t have to or anything. You can if you want to though."
Instantly, this guitar shredding, robotic, goth-industrial, curly haired waif was the girl next door.
She launched into the title track, Strange Mercy, and fed the audience members by hand, following that up with two more new ones, Northern Lights and Year of the Tiger, before ending the set with Marrow, a song off the second album that features a jazzy guitar riff set over deep bass and fuzz.
After disappearing for a moment the band returned to play a couple off the previous two albums, The Party and Your Lips Are Red, which was definitely one of the highlights of the night. It rang true and seemed like it was written just for Lawrence, just for tonight, just for us:
"This cities red from riding us into the ground
This cities black
This cities black from all the ashes in downtown
Ashes in downtown, ashes in downtown"