St. Vincent lights up her second ACL taping

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Few rock artists are as creative, acclaimed and wildly imaginative as St. Vincent. Nine years after her first appearance, the erstwhile Annie Clark hit our stage for the second time to support her widely praised fifth St. Vincent LP MASSEDUCTION, which hit the top ten on the album charts and topped many year-end best-of lists. In front of an impressive strobe-lit set, St. Vincent gave us a show unlike anything we’ve had before, which we streamed live around the world.

Taking their places in front of massive blocks of futuristic strobe lights, Clark, clad in a red vinyl bodysuit and matching thigh-high boots, and her three-piece band began with a throbbing electronic pulse and flashing silhouettes for the kinetic Masseduction track “Sugarboy.” The rhythm got funkier for “Los Ageless,” Clark singing full-throated and casually extracting steely riffs from her guitar. “Pills” followed, twisting blatantly hooky synth-pop into a distinctly St. Vincentized shape, complete with anthemic guitar coda. Setting aside her guitar, Clark stepped forward, mic in hand, for the unabashed pop of “New York,” before re-donning her ax for the bluesy electropop of the sensual “Savior.” The lights dropped, and when they came back the spotlight was on bassist/keyboardist Toko Yasuda, who sang out the opening chant of Masseduction’s hypnotic title track, before Clark and her fuzz-soaked slide guitar retook control.  

When the lights came back from their dip to black, Clark was joined for “Huey Newton” by a black-coated, masked creeper (actually her tech in disguise) holding her guitar. As the first half of the song reached its crescendo, the figure strapped her instrument on in time for her to shred the heavy riffs that drove the tune’s second half – a nice bit of theater that earned appreciation from the crowd. After that track from her 2015 Grammy-winning self-titled album, she went all the way back to her second LP Actor and the thrilling “Marrow,” a devilishly catchy rocker that tastefully showed off her superior six-string skills. The band then dipped into the album Strange Mercy for a pair of tunes: the dramatic pop tune “Cruel” and the dynamic alt-anthem “Cheerleader.” Then Clark returned to the eponymous album for the diabolical “Digital Witness,” its melange of electro-funk, fetching melody and effects-laden slide shifting into another dimension. Switching to black and white, the strobes went crazy for “Rattlesnake,” another catchy groove rocker that featured some extended soloing in the coda. Shifting back to Masseducation, the band blasted out the flashy “Fear the Future,” the paranoia of which was leavened by more hooks and guitar. St. Vincent closed the set with the appropriately-titled “Slow Disco,” in which Clark adapted Giorgio Moroder’s synthesized danceability to a perfect set-closing anthem. The audience agreed, going crazy as the band quit the stage.

“I can’t even count the times I’ve seen mindblowing performances on this TV show,” said Clark as she and the band returned to the stage, “so it’s an honor to be back for the second time.” The group went into “Hang On Me,” a lush ballad from Masseduction. Then her band left Clark alone on the stage, so she could play a couple of songs “that I used to play in coffee shops, bad bars and, in a couple of embarrassing instances, pizza parlors.” She then performed a lovely “Severed Crossed Fingers” and a dignified “Prince Johnny,” as a reminder that, stagecraft and effects aside, the core of St. Vincent’s artistry has always been strong songwriting. The lights went to black and the show ended.  We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall as part of our upcoming Season 44 on your local PBS station.