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.