After a series of festival appearances this year, St. Vincents last scheduled tour date was a free show at Central Parks Summerstage. Backed by a bevy of talented musicians, her last show for the summer grabbed the packed crowds attention from the first song and didnt let go until she left the stage an hour and a half later.
Though its been a little over a year since Actor came out, St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) and her backing band still showed the same enthusiasm for their newer material. Laced with aggression and precision, the group put on a stripped down show that put all eyes and ears on the music rather than any fancy lighting. From piano to saxophone to a small string section, the lush melodies of both her records came to life, only to be interrupted by Clarks intricate and ferocious guitar work.
Before the headlining guitarist took the stage though, the audience was entertained by two decent opening acts that made the long wait (two and a half hours) a lot less painful. First up was Canadian songwriter Basia Bulat, whos light-hearted but lyrically dark brand of folk rock made for a relaxing way to start the day. With the light breeze that was blowing through Central Park, many people sat and relaxed towards the back as she played. Bulat herself picked through a variety of instruments, including the guitar, ukulele, keyboard, and her trademark autoharp.
If Bulat was laid-back, then the tUnE-yArDs‘ set was the polar opposite. Group founder Merrill Garbus came onstage with face paint on and proceeded to create a rhythmic loop out of her yodeling. Bassist Nate Brenner supported her loops nicely with some cushioned riffs. It wasnt all electronics though. After a few songs, a special guest band joined in the fun, filling in on electric guitar, percussion, horns. Garbus often played a distorted ukulele that expanded even more on the groups experimental sound. The most distinctive part of the set though was the vocals. Garbus voice reached across the spectrum of music, bringing to mind the smooth pop of Dido to the R&B soul of Macy Gray. She hollered, heckled, and even imitated a car horn (her ode to New York). The performance was well-received by the crowd, who she had jumping along with her by the second song.
While the opening acts were good, its clear the crowd was there for St. Vincent. Unfortunately, some technical difficulties increased the wait another 20 minutes or so before the band took to the stage. Soon enough though, Ms. Clark and her band started their set with three songs from Actor, including the single Actor Out of Work. The result was sadly disappointing, though no fault to Clark. The sound mix was way off, putting the bass high enough for vibrations to travel through the barriers and Clarks guitar too low to be heard clearly. These mechanical problems really put a damper on the first part of the set, sucking away the part most of the crowd was there to hear: Clarks guitar. The effect was lessened afterward, probably due to some panicked fiddling on the part of the sound engineer but it was still enough to turn the end of Just The Same But Brand New into a muddled mess.
After the fifth song, however, the audio improved greatly with only minor grievances occurring. Perfect timing too as the band premiered one of the few tracks from St. Vincents second album that hadnt been played live yet, The Neighbors. The track sounded spectacular live, with Clarks fuzzed guitar tone meshing well against Daniel Harts mesmerizing violin. Though the entire support band played wonderfully, Hart was something of a standout. His violin went from beautifully brittle to darkly haunting throughout the show. He was the only one who managed to grab the crowds attention as readily as St. Vincent did.
Speaking of the leading lady, she proved once again that theres no one who can switch between the fragile and fury so quickly. Every guitar solo turned Clark into a woman possessed, forcing out the distorted crunches she wanted by any means necessary, including punching the guitar. Yet by the next song, she was lighter than air as she moved over the frets to create séances of music. The audience readily changed along with her, from quietly staring during The Bed to punching the air and singing along to Marrow. When the last harmonic from St. Vincent and her backing band rang out during The Party, the crowd screamed in approval, the earlier problems forgotten.
The ending reaction from the crowd was the overall experience to take from this show. After stumbling badly out of the gate, St. Vincent recovered enough to put on a gratifying, intense showcase, no matter which song she played. Not a bad way to finish up her tour.