St. Vincent at the Eventim Apollo review: Minimalist precision and subtle theatricality

·2-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Annie Clark only has to walk on a stage and it’s art. Appearing from the Hammersmith Apollo wings stage left in a raincoat, beneath cartoon clouds overhead, the leftfield Dallas guitar goddess better known as St. Vincent strolled to the microphone, shrugged and walked straight off the other side of the stage. Seconds later she reappeared, stage left again, now in a retro pink playsuit. If we couldn’t believe our eyes, our ears were soon to follow.

Clark has often been lauded as a modern-day Bowie thanks to her chameleonic shifts in style and image, and with good reason. Her new look – think NASCAR calendar girl, 1972 – replaces the sci-fi latex of 2018. And where 2017’s Masseducation album found her comprehensively owning futuristic synth-pop after 10 years spent inching out of the art-rock undergrowth, last year’s Daddy’s Home was a sharp swerve into Seventies funk and hallucinogenic Hair rock. It was inspired by the records her father – who recently finished a nine-year prison stretch for his role in a $43m stock-manipulation scheme – would play her as a child.

The two records dominated the set, wonderfully woven. The faithful, yet clinical, retro funk of Down or Down And Out Downtown shared just enough synthetic texture to compliment, rather than clash with, romantic electropop like New York, Prince-like sizzles such as Digital Witness and infectious industrial synth-rocker Los Ageless.

At the core of much of the set was classic soul, manipulated – into alt-country (…At The Holiday Party), corroded motoric rock (Sugarboy) or billowing showstoppers like Cheerleader, a damning indictment on America amended in the wake of the Roe v. Wade ruling. “I know what I deserve and it’s basic f***ing human rights,” Clark yelled.

In performance, though, Clark is less Bowie, more David Byrne, with whom she collaborated on 2012’s album Love This Giant. She shares Byrne’s art-pop nous for minimalist precision and subtle theatricality. When Clark wasn’t performing sensual Pulp Fiction-style half-dances, striking Marilyn Monroe poses or soloing on her knees AC/DC style, the whole band were doing tiny, robotic synchronised motions as if choreographed by an AI that had been fed a Sly Stone gig from 1974. During Live In The Dream, the trio of backing singers wandered the stage in slow motion.

It might have all verged on the methodical, had Clark not made space for irreverence too. “Oh, what an ordinary day, take out the garbage, masturbate,” went Birth in Reverse. At one point, Clark mumbled a snippet of a half-written jazz croon she claimed had been “rejected from the Great American Songbook”. Between numbers, a Seventies waitress served cocktails. This was a show plotted, perfected, then gloriously coloured in. St. Vincent doesn’t play gigs, you see, she elevates them.

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