Making her first return to WNY since she opened for Andrew Bird at Asbury Hall back in 2009, St. Vincent put on a performance of cataclysmic proportions last night at Town Ballroom. The show was nothing short of stunning; this year’s most powerful yet for the venue. There was everything I expected there to be and so much more: A magnificently rendered opening set by Shearwater, a pristine exhibit of songs off of St. Vincent’s latest LP Strange Mercy (her best yet), witty pre-song anecdotes by Clark, her mechanical, yet alluring guitar-saunter, a cover of a British punk band, a (accidental?) stage dive and subsequent crowd surf, and a superb encore performance. What more could you want from Clark on her second show of the tour?
As people packed into Town Ballroom there was an unusual anticipation in the air. As you know, St. Vincent was first announced to play Town Ballroom back in November of last year, then had to cancel due to complications that were never fully explained. I, as well as many who were planning on attending the show, were pretty bummed out. Some felt betrayed; Buffalo would be the show to get cut. But in January Buffalo was added as a stop on another North American tour, and we quickly forgave Annie Clark, knowing well she had not forgotten about us.
To kick it off, Shearwater, fellow Texans haling from Austin, played, what felt like, a quick opening set, but in actuality was an extensive array of about 8-10 songs. In all honesty, Shearwater had always been one of those bands I had heard of, but never actually got around to listening to. I was immediately taken aback by their staunch musicianship and the overwhelming passion they displayed. Lead singer Jonathan Meiburg brought an energy uncommon with opening acts, and his four other band members followed suit. It wasn’t long before the crowd was on board as well, and a few of us might’ve even briefly forgotten about who was coming on next. Great opening bands will do this very rarely.
After Shearwater’s masterful set, we were left to our stifled conversations as we all waited for Annie. The stage crew had their delicate tasks of tuning and sound checking all four of Clark’s guitars, arranging the drums, synth, and keyboard to the outer ends of the stage, giving Clark enough room to rage on songs like “Surgeon” and “Northern Lights”. After the crew left, the fog machines were turned on, blanketing the void in thick, velvety plumes. We were all left twiddling our thumbs, checking twitter, acting like we had vital text messages to write.
The lights went out swiftly and she emerged, tip-toed to the mic, a single synth was lit, and she began softly: “Muscle connects to the bone / And the bone to the ire and the marrow.” “Marrow”, a track off her sophomore album, Actor, was a fitting start, and soon everyone was getting down to the Hitchcock-esque riffs of the chorus, which is essentially Clark’s call on the audience to start participating, “H-E-L-P / Help me, help me.” Next, St. Vincent went strait into a choice cut off her latest, Strange Mercy, with “Cheerleader”. With every strum Clark chants, “I, I, I, I, I don’t want to be your cheerleader no more.” The crowd is already off their hinges, erupting forth, chanting a collective “I”, and Clark can help but purse her dark red lips and boast a smile.
Next, Clark went with another off her new album, “Chloe in the Afternoon,” one of my favorites. Her band was truly impressive, right on point with every rise and fall, basking in harmonious rhythm, welcoming any unforeseen key change. Clark’s vocals were nothing short of angelic, further proof that her music, in it’s purest form, is not the result of any studio doctoring. She continued to play songs from her new album including “Dilettante”, “Strange Mercy”, and “Surgeon.” One thing that I find incredible is Clark’s versatility as a musician. In one way she is a vocalist and a poet, but in so many more ways she is a performer and a drop-dead guitarist, which surprisingly not many people seem to know about. I heard countless comments after the show from fans that seemed oblivious to Clark’s ability to swing an ax like a lumberjack. Just further proof that St. Vincent embodies so much more as an artist in the way she performs.
Clark continued with “Northern Lights” which was itself a light show, with spectacular strobes and dazzling orbs of turquoise and aqua-blue all silhouetting a convulsing and thrashing Clark, being possessed by her instrument in all the right ways. She prefaced “Year of the Tiger” with an interesting little story about how she borrowed the melody from a ditty her mother used to play on the piano when she was growing up. After, Clark continued with another story, this time prefacing a cover of a song by The Pop Group, a British punk band active from 1978-1980. The story entailed her meeting lead singer Mark Stewart, who had heard that she was covering the band and requested to sing with her at her London show. As a gift he gave her a dish scrubber in the shape of Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols (appropriately called Sid Dishes), and told her it was “what’s become of punk.” The story got a good laugh, and the subsequent performance was even more incredible. The crowd was in an uproar and before you knew it she was swinging the mic by its tail and being tossed about in the crowd like a lost ship in a tempest. It might’ve been accidental, but all the same, incredibly punk rock.
For the encore She sang “The Party”, another song from Actor. But before she sang she gave many thank yous, and expressed her astonishment at how wonderful the Buffalo audience was. It meant a lot. After she left the stage, the crowd broke out in even more applause, and once the chants of “One more song” began, it was time for Town Ballroom to cue the exit music.
Well, there’s really not much more to say other than this show was well worth the wait. It was easily the strongest performance I have seen at Town Ballroom this year, and I cannot wait for St. Vincent to come back.
~All photos by Tom Dennis