St. Vincent's two-act show reveals the strength of her latest material
I was feeling anguished. St. Vincent was 45 minutes in to her Dark Mofo set at Hobart’s MAC2 and she was… fine.
Actually, she was good. Her show, in which she played entirely solo with only a backing track, light show and some subtle stage movements, felt almost like Clark was proving how much she could do on her own. As if we didn’t already know.
But I didn’t want St. Vincent to be ‘good’. I wanted it to be extraordinary. I wanted to feel the same giddy rush I’ve when blasting her records from the past decade, or watching her wonderfully warped film clips.
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Clark was starving her audience of her beyond brilliant 2017 album MASSEDUCTION, and it was frustrating. There aren’t many artists from who you most want to hear their latest material, but Clark’s evolution as a songwriter, producer and performer has led her to create her finest work right now.
I didn’t want to report on a St. Vincent show and say that it was merely satisfactory.
You probably know what happened next.
Clark walked offstage, the room went black. Soon, she reemerged wearing a new outfit, with an enormous video backdrop. She kicked into ‘Hang On Me’, the opening track from MASSEDUCTION and I swear I felt the energy in the room change. Or maybe I’m just projecting.
She then proceeded to play the aforementioned new record. In full.
The show was no longer good. It became the kind of artistic triumph I’d hoped and, to be honest, expected. The visuals, largely taken from Clark’s brilliant video clips, were strange and funny and beautiful. The lighting was astounding; ‘Young Lover’ isn’t one of the album’s best tracks, but it became a highlight thanks to the epic flashes that complemented it.
Then there was Clark’s sheer musical brilliance. I will argue with anyone that she’s one of the greatest guitarists on the planet right now; her wild solo in the frenetic ‘Sugarboy’ particularly skronky and transcendent.
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And there were the small touches that elevated the show emotionally. No visuals accompanied ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’ until Clark sang the final line. ‘Of course I blame me’ flashed up on the screen as she sings it. The most heartbreaking moment on the record, which could easily have been in lost in a space as vast as a packed MAC2, is gently given the prominence it deserves. It was simple, but brilliant.
We can’t say for sure why St. Vincent’s second act seemed so much better. Perhaps it’s the material. Maybe it is simply that much better than what she’s done in the past (which, I stress, is utter genius). Perhaps this show was just so specifically crafted to serve these songs that the other material just didn’t translate as well. Perhaps the old songs are stale - to us, or to her - or maybe it’s just the way it unfolded tonight.
It doesn’t matter why it worked. Only that it did. It reaffirmed what we already knew about Clark, she’s a multidisciplinary genius with a brilliant, considered take on making art that’s danceable, thought-provoking, heartbreaking and beautiful.