We’re always happy to welcome St. Vincent back to Austin City Limits. The Texas-raised Annie Clark and her renowned project have gone from strength to strength since she first alighted on our stage back in Season 35 in 2009. Her latest record Daddy’s Home may be her most acclaimed yet, and we were thrilled to have her showcase it for her third taping in an electrifying career-wide set filled with highlights.
After a brief fakeout with a trench-coated double (Arianna Henry, who would make frequent appearances as roadie and dancer), Clark joined her crack band to open the show with a slinky, groove-approved version of “Digital Witness.” They launched into the first song from Daddy’s Home, the seething funk rocker “Down,” on which Clark was joined at the front of the stage by backing singers Navonnah Holley, Stephanie Alexander and Danielle Withers. She and ace co-guitarist Jason Falkner traded dissonant licks to kick off “Birth in Reverse,” a perfect example of how she’s re-written the rules of rock & roll. After a particularly egregious dad joke, she then powered, appropriately enough, into “Daddy’s Home,” the sleazy title track of the latest album. Keyboardist Rachel Eckroth hit the familiar piano open of “New York,” with the singers leading the crowd to add handclaps to the melancholy anthem. Falkner donned an acoustic guitar as the dancer returned in a waitress outfit to serve up drinks to the musicians, leading to Clark giving a toast – “To Austin City Limits and our third time here, and to all of us being back together again!” Then she sang “…At the Holiday Party,” a sedate but acidic pop tune on which she played tabletop steel with her microphone.
Bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (last seen on our stage with Beck) began a synth pulse, joined by drummer Mark Guiliana’s rock-solid groove, to lay the foundation for the widescreen pop of Masseduction’s “Los Ageless” – “You know this one,” Clark said as she ripped out the signature guitar lick. She stuck with that album for the jittery glam rock of “Sugarboy,” which climaxed in an orgy of skronk, clatter and feedback. The band then looked back to the early St. Vincent album Actor for the noisy art popper “Marrow.” The atmosphere subtly altered to a both more ethereal and more rhythmic vibe, which meant it was time for the brilliant “Slow Disco,” which showcased the singers and brought dancer Henry back onstage. After a round of band introductions, it was time for the bitter synth funk of “Pay Your Way to Pain,” which allowed Clark to remind us that she’s a powerhouse vocalist as well as a full-on guitar god. The band then took another trip to the past with the loud/soft dynamics of “Cheerleader,” from her third LP Strange Mercy, culminating with Clark and Falkner using each other’s guitars as plectrums in a hail of six-string noise. No respite for the weary, as everyone went right into the steely crunch of “Fear the Future,” which ended with more guitar raunch.
Clark then reached way back, riding Guiliana’s pounding rhythm for the menacing “Your Lips Are Red,” hailing from St. Vincent’s very first album Marry Me. The band then ascended gently into space for the shimmering, floating “Live in the Dream,” leading the vocalists to traverse the stage in slow motion and Clark to finally indulge in some guitar heroism before ending in complete silence. Eckroth took to the Wurlitzer electric piano to begin “The Melting of the Sun,” a tribute to notable women performers from Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone and Marilyn Monroe to Clark herself. It was a great note on which to end the stunner of a set, as the crowd showed its love and the musicians took a bow. It was such a good show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this coming winter on your local PBS station as part of our Season 47.