If Annie Clark of St. Vincent applied the same philosophy she uses for songwriting to painting, she would be splattering blood and guts on a Monet. Last night’s set at the Beachland Ballroom began with “The Strangers,” the same track that opens her latest record, Actor. Her ethereal voice echoed through the ballroom, and meandering flute and violin set the scene with a calm beauty. But sure enough, Clark covered that beauty with grime, attacking her guitar with a viciousness that felt exhilaratingly wrong, especially when you consider the context.
Daniel Hart warmed the room up with his violin, Evan Smith alternated between flute, keys, and sax, Anthony LeMarca sped things up on the drums, and William Flynn held the show together on bass. All eyes were on Clark (and everyone was taking a million pictures; she’s a knockout), but the solid musicianship of these four backing members is essential.
Clark remarked that last time they were in Cleveland, they played to ten people in the connecting tavern. Since then, Actor has (rightfully) fueled a great deal of success. On “Save Me From What I Want,” the Brooklynite experimented with jazzy, bouncy guitar, and mixed lyrics like “I think I love you, I think I’m mad” with delightfully messy distortion on “Actor Out of Work.”
The crowd was completely silent between cheers and applause. Jaws were dropping. And you could practically hear the sound of 100 men’s hearts beating as Clark crooned “Marry Me,” one of the night’s vocal-centric songs. When she sang the line “Oh John, let’s do what Mary and Joseph did… without the kid,” the crowd erupted into applause, and she politely responded, “Thank you for getting the joke” before finishing the song.
St. Vincent is proof that music probably shouldn’t follow a formula. Sometimes spooky and sweet are best when combined. Sometimes calm waves require grimy dirt to keep things interesting. If this is true, Annie Clark is the queen of juxtaposition.