With the album Strange Mercy still warm from the oven, St. Vincent opened her show at the Phoenix last night knocking off hits. “Surgeon” and “Cheerleader” pulled in the crowd, making dancers out of hipsters and spreading preteen enthusiasm like a contagion. The sound was incredible – though the Phoenix usually delivers – and Clark’s voice, high and ethereal against the warm bass-heavy backing her band provided, was dead on. That voice was completely, gorgeously, dead, dead on. Working between her 2011 album and Actor and blasting through a cover from the Pop Group, St. Vincent sniped off a perfect set.
The glutton in me was missing over-the-top jam battles that these musicians were clearly capable of having. Each song ended like a curt handshake. But like a connoisseur passing over cheap scotch, Clark carefully chose her solos and tore through each one like knife through a paper bag. She swung her axe as though she left the womb with it in her hands. Her guitar tone, built on pedal-knowledge and a remarkable ear, seemed to do the job of two instruments. Her energy on stage could’ve jump-started a car battery.
Having been a hired gun herself, first with the Polyphonic Spree and then with Sufjan Stevens, Annie Erin Clark knows how to pick a band. Two keyboardists – one singing back up – and a drummer, Clark was at the helm of a tight ship. The banter between songs, spotlight shining on the angelic Clark, was more folk show than rock show. She told stories of cemetery hangouts in Washington D.C and later revealed that “Cruel” is basically a flash fiction piece about adopting a group of motherless children only to have them turn on her. This serene demeanor may have encouraged the “Annie, you’re so pretty” shout outs, which annoyed me (and probably Clark) because she was busting chops playing rock and roll, not limp-wristing an acoustic. Her most endearing moment was pausing a verse into “Dilettante” and admitting that she had forgotten her lyrics, asking us all to help her remember the first line.
About leaving St. Berkeley School of Music, Clark remarked that she had to forget everything she had learned about music before she could start actually making music. But underneath the slick outfits and hipster credibility, there is still a lot of music nerd stuck on Annie Clark. That genuine musicianship made for an incredible show.