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St. Vincent strips down over two nights at ACL Live

Written by
David Brendan Hall

The most impressive iteration of St. Vincent I’ve witnessed was in May 2015, when the Dallas-raised songsmith (born Annie Clark) played a hometown show backed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the gorgeous Winspear Opera House. Familiar tunes spanning her first four albums transformed in real time, sprouting sonic tendrils of harmonious horns and stirring strings at every turn. So how would a solo show—the type Clark conceived for her Fear the Future Tour behind fifth album Masseduction—fare compared to that, let alone one her typically riveting full-band sets?

Over two sold-out nights at ACL Live this past Thursday and Friday, Clark proved her concept’s indisputable potency despite its stripped-down design. The performance was punctuated by her spotlit, legs-for-days figure donning space-age domme garb while singing and/or shredding center-stage for about 90 minutes, which covered a set of career highlights plus the entirety of her new record. Riffs erupted in washes of glorious overdrive without so much as a single on-stage pedal to trigger the effects (distorted and reverb-heavy on “Actor Out of Work,” Moog-like on “Sugar Boy” and robustly rockin’ during “Los Ageless“), revealing her nuanced method. Every audible moment was mapped out to the millisecond and controlled remotely to make sure her instrumentation aligned with each pre-programmed playback track, many of which (“The Strangers,” “Rattlesnake,” ”Young Lover”) seemed to adopt heavier, more hip-hop- and dance-oriented beats than usual. To boot, a customized visual scheme enshrouded her throughout the latter full-album portion, elevating the experience from mere concert to performance art piece.

Of course, so much of these shows’ strengths boiled down to Clark's enigmatic presence, which she exuded through subtle winks (directed at lucky fans during “Marry Me”), sudden aggressiveness (the way she barked “dress me in leather / that’s a little better” on “Savior” was downright thrilling) and occasional feasts of spellbinding falsetto (the show-closer “Smoking Section” saw her channeling a haunting tone akin to Portishead’s Beth Gibbons). And as fellow Texan fans know full-well, shows ‘round these parts always end up slightly more special since they’re habitually marked with home-state tributes.

One such cherry-on-top moment manifested in a personalized parody of staple song “New York” following a hilarious reminiscence of once “buying a set of extra-baggy clothes at the Goodwill so [she] could sneak a 24-pack of Natural Ice into a UT dorm.” “Austin isn’t Austin without you, loves,” she crooned, lapsing into a coy grin which seemed to signal that, underneath the well-groomed guise of art-rock goddess, there’s still that good ol’ Texan gal eager to connect with every human in the room.

All photos by David Brendan Hall

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