Most performances I've seen in the Andy Warhol Museum's small theater space have been of high quality, but mostly compelling in a chin-scratching kind of way. Like, say, Joanna Newsom, Matmos, Richard Hell reading his poetry, Girl Talk making a handful of CMU students studiously approximate dirty dancing -- you get the idea. None of these experiences prepared me for last night's performance at the Warhol by St. Vincent, a.k.a. multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark and her band.
Opening with "Now Now" from her 2007 Beggar's Banquet release Marry Me, Clark tore into the song with a force the recorded version barely approximates, and left audiences agape from that point on. Joining her onstage amid the "psychedelic forest" props were a drummer, a bassist, and a violinist, all of whom also navigated additional instruments and triggered myriad samples and effects. For her part, Clark mainly coaxed alien sounds and ornate counterpoint from her red hotrod of a guitar; for "Marry Me," she swept into Elton territory on the keys. And crooned. And batted those eyelashes.
With her scrappy guitar heroics, dual microphone approach (one offering a more old timey sound), complex arrangements and indie cred, it's tempting to think of St. Vincent as Feist, Jr. (Feist put on a similarly impressive show a few months back at the Oakland's Carnegie Music Hall.) But for my money, St. Vincent offers a more eccentric vision and virtuosic accomplishment -- if I had to cast a vote for one of them as the next Bjork, it would be for St. Vincent.
My only complaint, if you can even call it that, is that while Clark never seemed to break a sweat despite the ambitious production taking place, you still occasionally saw the nuts and bolts. And despite her wide-eyed, charming-story-telling persona, there was plenty of showbiz magic helping things along, not least of which is the simple fact that she's gorgeous. (And yes, I'm reasonably sure she knows that we know that she knows that we know she's stunning.) But if the standing ovation and shit-eating grins on the audience's faces afterwards were any indication, nobody minded a bit.
The opener, Foreign Born, didn't fare quite so well, but put up a helluva fight. Playing hearty guitar-based folk-pop with the occasional Richard Ashcroft wail and David Byrnian dance-moves, they attempted to update their throwback sound with some prerecorded samples and tracks deployed by their drummer's laptop (who appeared to be a former member of Alabama.) Whereas St. Vincent's obvious backing tracks and triggered samples blended in for the most part with her set's overall arty aesthetic, Foreign Born's combination of archetypal guitar-rock purity with a fucking laptop was a bit jarring. More that that-- it just wasn't cool, dudes.
Check out these upcoming performances at the Warhol's Sound Series (seating is limited, so get tickets in advance):
Fri., March 7 Akron/Family with Megafaun
Fri., March 21 The Slits (legendary riot grrrl, punk/dub) with Shellshag
Fri., March 28 Beatrix Jar (Minneapolis-based circuit bending duo), with Margaret Cox & Michael Johnsen
Fri., April 11 John Vanderslice with Spanish Prisoners
Tue. April 15 American Music Club
Fri., April 25 Stars of the Lid with Christopher Willits