In 2017, Annie Clark had a relatively simple idea: take all the head-spinning electronica of her then-recorded released fifth studio album Masseduction and strip them away. In their place would be just a single piano, boiling down the tales of New York grime and substance-infused stardom to their most bare elements.
Songs like ‘New York’ and ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’ were already primed for this sort of treatment, but hearing hyper-synthesised songs like ‘Sugarboy’ and ‘Pills’ in the acoustic format was relatively startling. Arranged for solo piano and vocals, the project was a relatively casual collaboration with pianist Thomas Bartlett during the mixing stage of Masseduction. Completed in only two days of recording, the new versions of the songs were later released as MassEducation in 2018 to celebrate the original album’s one year anniversary.
While MassEducation was originally a one-off reimagining, Clark eventually decided to play a few intimate shows with the material after the multi-media extravaganza that was the Masseduction supporting ‘I Am A Lot Like You!’ tour. Once again accompanied by Bartlett, these shows made a conscious effort to strip away the alien-like St. Vincent persona: Clark played in small rooms, told jokes, and purposefully made it feel like a warm and loose environment.
That carried over to the setlist as well. When Clark and Bartlett pulled into the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a new series of songs were brought out to accompany the paired back affair. Whereas the electronic rock of her normal show allowed for old guitar-heavy favourites like ‘Birth in Reverse’ and ‘Cruel’ to be busted out, the paint-only setting called for some interesting audibles, including ‘The Bed’ from 2009’s Actor and ‘Cheerleader’ from 2011’s Strange Mercy.
But the biggest surprise came right at the top of the show when Clark and Bartlett opened with a beautifully muted version of the Lou Reed classic ‘Perfect Day’. At the time of the concert, it was very near the fifth anniversary of Reed’s death, and Clark wrangles an emotional performance out of just her voice and Bartlett’s airy piano flourishes. Much of Masseduction covered the beauty and tragedy of New York City, so who better to pay tribute to than the man who was able to bring all the grime, grit, and odd wonder of the city to life.
Check out St. Vincent’s cover of ‘Perfect Day’ down below.