St Vincent @ ICA 08.07.09

Thanks to the talented Anika Mottershaw for permission to use the shot.

Annie Clark is a strange proposition. Her music occupies an uneasy middle place between movie soundtrack, run-of-the-mill Indie Rock, and jazzier, more acoustic, singer-songwriter leanings which produces a synthesis that is almost as uneasy and peculiar as the venue she plays in tonight. The consciously hip Institute of Contemporary Arts too occupies an uneasy middle place, strangely out of place in a high-rent location just off The Mall, cushioned between the achingly unhip locales of Buckingham Palace, St James’s park and the Houses of Parliament.

For most artists, such a melding of sounds is a recipe for disaster, but not here, St Vincent pulls it off quite effortlessly, on record at least, as has demonstrated by the wonderful album, Actor.

However, Jazz and movie soundtracks are not famed for exhilarating audiences in a live setting. Thankfully, St Vincent live is a rawer, heavier affair than it is on record, whilst still retaining the dark but Disneyesque charm of the record. That’s not to say that it’s a dumbed down, filtered affair, she has a live band backing her which features the relatively rare accompaniments of a saxophonist/clarinetist and violinist. Everything on the record is there, but it’s the rock elements of the band that takes centre stage tonight, most noticeably Clark’s screaming guitar and the wonderfully syncopated drumming of the, er, drummer.

The show is dominated by material of her latest, though a few ‘classics’ feature, Marrow, Actor out of Work and a relentless, distorted Your Lips Are Red are the highlights of a tight and warmly received show.

My two biggest bugbears of live gigs, stale, note for note performances and lack of interaction with the audience were also ably slayed. As well as parading her ‘hits’, Ms Clark showed off her trademark inventiveness with her compositions, re-jigging and reinterpreting them not only for a live performance, but seemingly for her own enjoyment, guitar fills and distorted fret wankery were thrown in at every opportunity, much to the audience’s and her own pleasure.

Secondly, the intimate nature of the ICA also draws out lots of chatter with the crowd, the highlight of which was an entertaining David Byrne anecdote from Bonnaroo, the punchline of which is delivered with a perfect comedic deadpan. Gigs are nearly always more pleasurable when an artist goes beyond acknowledging the audience’s existence with a perfunctory ‘Hello, London!’

In post-gig reflection, it seems unfair that such a talented artist two great albums into a solo career should be playing a venue as cramped and sweaty as the ICA, which has a stage ‘area’ that is strangely at odds with the swanky, free-WiFied bar at the front of the venue, and is reminiscent and may infact be a Drama workshop studio when it isn’t hosting gigs; fairness is rarely something that comes into consideration when it comes to the appreciation of talent, and though relative ‘indie’ mainstream success may well elude her idiosyncratic style of music, with performances like this under her belt and a small, but loyal army of followers at her command, does it really matter?

MP3: St Vincent – Marrow

MP3: St Vincent – Your Lips Are Red


2 responses to “St Vincent @ ICA 08.07.09

  1. Lovely review.

  2. Nice review. You’ll hopefully enjoy this St Vincent interview we did before the show–dis-meets-st-vincent

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