St. Vincent’s accessible theatricality
The acclaimed multi-instrumentalist visits Boston as a part of her new tour
Digital Witness Tour
Opening Act: Holly Herndon
House of Blues
Feb. 27, 2014
“You guys,” St. Vincent announced in front of the crowded House of Blues, “there was a ghost in the machine.”
It was hard to tell why Annie Clark, also known as St. Vincent, referenced Gilbert Ryle’s famous phrase as she vivaciously raised her hands and smiled to the Boston audience. Nevertheless, it was clear to everyone that her short speech was a planned and well-rehearsed act. A theatrical concert might sound pretentious when it comes to rock-oriented music, but the theatrics and choreography presented during St. Vincent’s show in Boston were far from ostentatious. While her new tour “Digital Witness Tour” is certainly flamboyant, there is a distinct dose of accessible drama in her show that had the Boston audience eagerly anticipating her arrival last Thursday at the House of Blues.
Before Clark appeared on stage, Holly Herndon opened the concert with a forty-minute set of experimental electronic and glitch-techno music. A somewhat unusual opener, Herndon quickly grabbed everyone’s attention by manipulating her eerie vocals to fit a seemingly cacophonous combination of beats, screams, and sighs. It was a challenging and demanding musical delivery, but it was obvious that Herndon knew what she was doing — she played with the spatial distribution of her music by playing specific sounds through different speakers, and she aptly used the change of lighting to complement the transitions in her music.
Unlike St. Vincent, Herndon did not showcase discreet liveliness in her sound, which is why she seemed like an illogical choice for an opener. But when Clark’s arrival on stage was announced by an unknown extraterrestrial-esque voice, it became obvious that Herndon’s highly experimental tone was chosen to prepare the audience for the upcoming theatricality.
Clark’s entrance was nothing less than spectacular. She walked in like an animated robot and performed a short choreography before opening the show with “Rattlesnake.” Most of the show was choreographed, and there were barely any moments of leisurely movement. Her accompanying musician Toko Yasuda would often join her to perform the intriguing dance routines created by Big Dance Theater’s Annie-B Parson.
The movements were not complicated, but they enhanced the show’s visuals and were the most prominent elements of Clark’s theatricality. Of course, it was Clark’s musical delivery that comprised the core of this memorable experience. She performed almost of all the songs from her new album “St. Vincent” with gusto, and even the more mellow tracks like “I Prefer Your Love” and “Prince Johnny” sounded rich and vibrant. When she switched back to her old albums and performed songs like “Cheerleader” and “Surgeon,” most of the audience sang in silence as a sign of respect, because no one wanted to ruin such fine performance with their own voices.
All aspects of her show worked successfully and harmoniously. Clark and her musicians were dressed in simple but elegant colors that allowed the multicolored lights to project differently on their bodies and create interplay of light and shadow. The stage was uncluttered, containing only a set of lights and a large staircase-like box that Clark climbed during some of her songs. In the middle of the show, there was a short period of triumphant unity of these elements when Clark climbed the box, lay down on the top level as the colored lights dimmed, and started slowly rolling down under the flashing strobe lights. Her bright dress and white-dyed hair became illuminated as she spread her body, and the entire stage started to look like a surreal purgatory.
Throughout the entire concert, Clark adhered to this theatrical display and kept distance from the audience. She showed very few spontaneous movements, she rarely changed her serious facial expression, and she didn’t address any comments from the crowd. Sometimes it even seemed as if she was getting bored of her routine choreography and staged monologues. But at the end of the show, when Clark bowed to the audience, a sincere and heartfelt smile lit her pale face, signaling to her fans that the show was just as refreshing and entertaining for her as it was for them.