St. Vincent @ 9:30 Club, Washington D.C. 2/24/10

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

A capacity crowd formed to see St. Vincent play DC’s 9:30 Club Wednesday, many with carefully disheveled hair, ready to nod/sway along with some indie rock. St. Vincent, the performing name of singer-songwriter Annie Clark, has neared the end of another major tour on the critically acclaimed Actor.

In her albums, the 27 year-old Tulsa native presides with a matronly air of benevolence and control. In person, Clark was just as confident, even as she spent much of the evening inhabiting the downtrodden, quietly desperate women of Actor‘s tracks, which often alternate between twinkly, immaculate arrangements and crunching noise in a single song.

This sense of both perfection and disquiet in her persona was played up in Actor‘s cover art, an impassive and uncomfortably close shot of Clark. The 9:30 Club crowd likewise got an intimate glimpse of the artist, as Wednesday’s performance offered fans both an encore freakout jam and some nervous storytelling. Clark told of the grotesqueries of her trip to Washington’s own medical museum at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (“it’s gnarly”) and of this month’s cancelled show, to have been held, to her surprise, at a goth club in Columbus, Ohio.

“Hey, did you see that chair with straps on the arms and legs? Why would a chair have restrain–oh, this is a bondage chair,” she recounted to laughs.

Clark and her touring quartet played mostly from Actor and Marry Me for the packed two-level of 9:30 club’s 1,200-standing venue. Spotlights showed St. Vincent in laser reds and greens, making cones of roiling vapor in the same garish colors overhead. Much has been made of Clark’s beauty before, but the waifish brunette, wearing just a simple black frock, carried an almost unearthly elegance, like something designed by Steve Jobs.

Standout numbers included “Jesus Saves, I Spend” and the stomping “Marrow,” a song Clark called her “dance jam” at an earlier appearance in DC. A violin soared or shrieked with her mood, and woodwinds and flutes were employed to tense, eerie effect on tracks like the haunted “The Bed,” where St. Vincent tells one of its typically disturbing fairy tales: “We’re sleeping underneath the bed/To scare the monsters out/ With our dear daddy’s Smith and Wesson/We’ve got to teach them all a lesson”

In the more raucous moments, Clark jerked around under the strobe lights like animation missing frames. St. Vincent built to these noise assaults in the context of what otherwise would pass for inoffensive coffeehouse rock, jazz-inspired and similar to oft-cited references Feist and Sufjan Stevens. It was fantastical Disney music with an undercurrent of menace, like a good-humored girl in a BDSM club.

However, the show abruptly came to halt during a cover of Nico’s “These Days.”

“That’s not right,” she says, letting the guitar sag. “Hold on…you guys deserve the right lyrics.”

A moment later she’d resumed playing, waiting for the melody to come around so she could correct herself. In truth, she could have been singing a speech by Margaret Thatcher without breaking her spell on the room.

8 Comments

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  1. “‘These Days’ was written by Jackson Browne. Nico may have made it beautiful, but it shouldn’t be solely attributed to her.”

    You’re right to note that, although St. Vincent specifically cited Nico that night. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Great review of the DC show at 9:30 Club. Thanks. Request: Please include the names of the rest of the band- just to give a complete review of the event and to give them their props.
    I totally agree with you, Casey, the show was fantastic. One of the best I have seen in a venue of this size. Annie Clark and her violinist (and guitarist/keyboards), Daniel Hart, were superb.
    I was particularly impressed with the lighting guy (what’s his name?). His coordination with the drums on one of the pieces was so spot on that I was sure the lights were running on a program or were electronically connected to the drum system. I learned after the show that it was all just about how well St Vincent’s lighting guy knows the music- amazing. Shows he is really part of the band just as much as any of the instrumentalists.
    You could tell how good the sound system was at the 9:30 club by the fact that you could actually hear the violin and flute really well. Usually, instruments like that get overwhelmed by the guitar and drums. Since you could hear Daniel Hart and the guy on flute (what’s his name?) so well, you could really appreciate how crucial the two instruments were to the sound of the songs on which they played. The violin, in particular, was really sublime.

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