Gig review: St Vincent (02 Academy, Leeds)

St Vincent. Picture courtesy of Nedda/Chuff Media
St Vincent. Picture courtesy of Nedda/Chuff Media
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When St Vincent (aka Annie Clark) first promoted her fifth album Masseduction with a series of ‘solo theatrical shows’ she divided audience opinion.

The Dallas-born musician now returns with a superficially more conventional rock concert that’s likely to be equally contentious. It does feature a live three-piece band but, in a play on gender politics, drummer Matt Johnson and keyboardist Daniel Mintseris are hidden behind blank face-masks and blonde wigs.

A high-concept art production, the 20-song show is visually spectacular.

A high-concept art production, the 20-song show is visually spectacular. The band are sharply choreographed right down to guitar changes; specially commissioned videos accompany most tracks; and the venue’s stage has been built up to incorporate under-floor lighting that succeeds in being more pop-art than Vegas.

This creates a wow factor for the opening trilogy of ‘Sugarboy’, ‘Los Ageless’, and ‘Masseducation’. These stake out her ability to fluidly incorporate well-buffed pop (she brought in Taylor Swift producer Jack Antonoff for the album) with disco, art- and industrial-rock.

The title track, in particular, showcases her ability to inhabit the spirit of Prince in her seemingly effortless guitar playing, while ‘Cruel’ has the jittery quality of former collaborator David Byrne. The latter has previously created similarly high-concept shows but while these have achieved audience connection, Clark’s flounders.

Despite claiming that people who “want to know about my life [should] listen to this record,” the show has a strange disconnect. Clark rarely appears to be present and, while the dazzling staging partly compensates for this, coldness gradually seeps into the funk-driven ‘Digital Witness’ and dance floor filler ‘Slow Disco’.

It’s not until towards the close of the set that Clark lets her character mask and precision choreography slip slightly. Accepting a gift from an audience member, she introduces an acapella sing-a-long of “Leeds isn’t Leeds without you, love” (adapted from ‘New York’). Set closer ‘Prince Johnny’, meanwhile, sees her performing solo on guitar without any props.

The visual aesthetics are part of what makes Clark such a fascinating, innovative performer. On this occasion, however, she’s let the concept over-shadow the music.