The latest St. Vincent album shows the stern-faced Annie Clark staring out with the look of a corpse brought back to life through some high voltage electric shock to be more terrifyingly powerful, more faultless and less human than before. The content of her new album and her live show at the Albert Hall demonstrate this inhuman ferocity.
Though the fuzzy curls of mad hair are gone, when she walks on stage she still has the aura of an electrified automaton, nothing but the puppeteer of electricity firing off her neurons and synapses, the central nervous system a set of strings moving her like a doll. The hidden puppet master makes its presence known through electric bolts of thick, choppy distortion as she breaks into ‘Rattlesnake’. This song is a thrilling opener to the album and her set, where we see her break into frenzied, delicate and choreographed steps as she runs from a rattlesnake in a comical take on the tale of Eve meeting the serpent in Eden.
Her trademark choreography seems of equal importance in the show as her robotic use of the stage, from the short shuffling steps stylistically resembling Noh drama to the bizarre contortions and hand gestures that baffle and tease, overwhelming the senses until the brain decides to stop making sense of it all.
This is best summed up by her strange writhing in between playing some funky discordant guitar riffs – when her and bandmate Toko Yasuda make a snip-snip scissor motion in unison, sweeping across the audience, as if the nervous system, the senses, the puppet strings were being cut.
So often she is praised as a masterful guitar player. The heaviness of guitars and noise sounds at times like a chaotic King Crimson. But there are softer moments like the aching ‘Prince Johnny’. Masterful as she is at controlling a crowd, the melancholy mood kicks up and out into ‘Birth in Reverse’ and we watch her adeptly masturbate a guitar on stage.
A particularly disturbing and slightly comical moment occurs, as she performs ‘Chloe in the Afternoon’ – a highly sexualised song about bondage where she proceeds to gargle on stage for 30 seconds.
At times, her tuned performance reminds me of Bowie and ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’ came to mind during the encore. Climbing up onto the balcony, dangling, swinging and shuffling along, clinging to the brass railing of the upper tier, legs flailing, a potentially painful drop waits for her should she lose her grip.
Two people pull her up, she slides down the railing, falling, crawling flat on the floor. It could have been a Tommy Cooper moment with her lying desperately hurt on the stage and the crowd roaring and cheering for more.
More rock and roll deaths! More crackpots for our amusement! More sad disintegrations that move us! More Syd Barretts! More Jim Morrisons! More Natalie Portman in ‘Black Swan’ – but the audience have too much faith in her ability to put on a show, and sure enough, as she gives us her rock and roll death on stage, she gets reanimated by relentless noise and gives her thanks, walking off.
There is something jarring about the ostentatiously arty rock that is St. Vincent and whether this makes you recoil with discomfort at the showiness of the project or whether it draws you in out of curiosity, it certainly isn’t boring and personally, I thought it was pretttty – pretty good.