St Vincent (Leeds Met Uni, 20 August 2014)

This was a great gig – eventually. Originally scheduled for May, when I turned up then there was nobody waiting and no-one at the University knew anything about it. Quickly googling, I found I’d made the trip into Leeds for nothing. I made a calendar note – and a note to check for cancellations before travelling to gigs in future.

So, tonight I was happy to see a queue outside the venue and managed to get in early and at the front. The support band, Arc Iris, arrived and won me over pretty quickly.

Arc Iris

I knew nothing about them beforehand but, looking at their website now, I see that lead woman Jocie Adams was previously in the Low Anthem, another band I like, though the music tonight was very different in nature. Appearing as a duet (with Zach Tenorio-Miller), both players sang (Jocie as lead) and played keyboards, with Jocie occasionally switching to guitar or woodwind (oboe, I think, though I don’t know for certain). The vocal styles reminded me of several other singers, Joni Mitchell and Joanna Newsome among them, and the musical styles ranged from slightly folky through jazz and more dance-y rock. Some of the songs were too twee even for my taste but I liked enough of it to buy the CD to give them a proper listen.

Annie St Vincent

Annie Clark and the band then came on stage and launched into ‘Rattlesnake’ from the latest eponymous CD, complete with the performance act to the song I’ve seen previously on TV but, before the song had even finished, all the amplifiers went silent and we were left with just the drums, as Matt Johnson gamely continued. Annie tried to keep the crowd going with a sing-along of the chorus, and then a bit of a chat, but it became apparent that the problems weren’t going to be resolved quickly and the band retreated backstage, leaving the technical crew to try and fix the power outage. At this point, the gig seemed cursed.

Half an hour later, and with a huge fourway power adaptor running across the back of the stage, the band returned. Not all the songs work in a live setting, but the big powerhouse ones, ‘Help Me’, ‘Your Lips are Red’, ‘Birth in Reverse’ and, particularly, ‘Cheerleader’ were absolutely amazing. Annie and Toko Yasuda, when both playing guitar, displayed how powerful a stage technique moving in unison can be – I can only think of the Shadows and Big Country really using this, though this was a more mannered performance than either.

For the encore, Annie climbed the riser at the back of the stage and, with just guitar, gave a gorgeous solo rendition of ‘Strange Mercy’, then the band returned and we were back in the strange land of the full St Vincent sound.

Annie is a really good guitarist and a strange, imaginative songwriter, with a terrific stage presence (she looks totally calm and unruffled) and the band were impeccable, not letting the technical problems ruin the mood which, by the end, was ecstatic. As Annie writhed around the stage, manic strobing gave the impression of something akin to David Lynch, rather than the more mannered David Byrne-influenced performance of earlier. And a performance is exactly what you get.

A magnificent gig, and St Vincent goes in my list of ‘unmissable gigs’ whenever one is next available.

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