Last night I saw St. Vincent play the final show of her US tour to a captivated audience at the First Unitarian Church.
I have never seen a show at First Unitarian before (blasphemy for a Philly music-lover, I know). The show was upstairs in the church proper – a church in the warmest and most inviting sense, and with wonderful acoustics. It was a perfect fit for St. Vincent’s precise, melodic orchestrations.
Backed by a woodwind player, violinist, bassist, and a spectacular drummer, St. Vincent stunned me throughout her set. I think I was most stunned because I got to take the show in alone and with no context – alone in my head, contending with such a remarkable show.
I like going to concerts alone. For all the fun of sharing a music experience with friends, their proximity can take me out of my connection to the music. Are they comfortable? Can they see? Do they know this song? Why don’t they want to dance? Sitting solo at the end of a pew my connection to the music was direct – some songs found my gaze raptly on her fingers, others eyes closed and inside of my own head.
As for context, I don’t really know anything about St. Vincent – I didn’t even know what instrument(s) she would be playing! That left me completely agog at how her five-piece recreated lush album arrangements with both fidelity and embellishment.
Most of my St. Vincent listening is spent repeating first half of 2009’s Actor, so I was worried I’d be bored after she tore through spotless takes on “Save Me From What I Want,” “Neighbors,” “Laughing With a Mouth Full of Blood,” and a crunchy “Actor Out of Work” for her first four tunes. That boredom never came. Even as we tread into songs I recognized less, each was intelligible and compelling. Neither foreknowledge nor committing songs to memory were pre-requisites for enjoying the performance.
I came away completely in awe of Annie Clark AKA St. Vincent. Her vocals were perfectly controlled throughout the show, on par with or besting her delivery on disc. Especially impressive was her guitar work, which is obscured beneath lush arrangements on LP. At the show it was much more prominent. On “Mouth Full of Blood” she navigated a series of classical-style walks and hammers, but she also worked fuzzed out riffs on the later “Marrow,” and an evocative solo and blast of utter noise on encore “Your Lips Are Red.” Also, her clean guitar tone was simply to-die-for.
Clark was winsome between tunes, gently thanking a crowd that receded into rapt silence after each bout of thunderous applause. She was clearly delighted to be playing for us, and was disarmingly frank when she confessed to the effect of, “Philly shows are great.”
I have to applaud local promoters R5 Productions for the presentation. The show was sold out, but not oversold – everyone was comfortably seated. The mixing was utterly perfect, whether that was due to St. V’s front of house guy or a well plotted sound system (probably both).
Altogether, a fantastic experience. I’m so happy that snow and slow SEPTA didn’t leave me couchbound for the night.