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St Vincent - Bush Hall, London, 30/11/2007

  by Chris O'Toole

published: 23 / 11 / 2007

St Vincent - Bush Hall, London, 30/11/2007


St Vincent, the moniker for American musician Annie Clark, has won much acclaim for her debut album, 'Marry Me'. Chris O' Toole finds St Vincent's set rewarding, but over complicated and too unpredictable at the Bush Hall in London

Annie Clark has spent her life in the shadow of others, patiently waiting for her chance to step out into the limelight. Serving as part of Glenn Branca’s 100 guitar orchestra, a sidekick to Sufjan Stevens and a member of the Polyphonic Spree, Clark has seen the world and developed the style, poise and repertoire to finally put her best foot forward and stride out onto centre stage on her own. Her debut record, 'Marry Me', met with applause upon its release earlier this year. A curious mix of Cat Power and Sonic Youth, the work is an eccentric, idiosyncratic jumble of fragmented, soaring guitar shredding, whispered vocals, strings and programmed beats. As an artist Clark sits equidistant from the wit of Regina Spektor, the whimsical charm of Feist and the experimentalism of Bjork; mixing all-three into her own quixotic charm. Tonight the Bush Hall is at capacity for Annie, or St Vincent as she becomes when she picks up her guitar. The venue has a regal feeling, adding intimacy and character in equal measure to the event. St Vincent is supported by violin, keyboards and drums; a full band as opposed to her solo shows earlier this year on tour with the National. Despite this there can be no mistaking who is the star of the show as Clark sets the tempo and direction of each song with the others falling in line at her bequest. Opening with ‘Jesus Saves I Spend’, a stomping, ornate pop song, St Vincent powers out of the blocks; playing one of her aces early on. The rhythm of the song switches direction on a sixpence, as does the whole set, careening between maudlin laments, introspective sentimentalism, raucous foot stomping and little bo-peep quaintness. Unfortunately St Vincent cannot carry of all these styles equally. When she excels Annie Clark is one of the finest around. Her guitar playing is exemplarily, screeching through ear ripping solos without ever slipping over into indulgence of pretension, her voice on the upbeat songs has character and her lyrics and quixotic and engaging. But at the other end of the scale, the slow, delicate pieces, St Vincent is not so accomplished. Her voice here is too harsh for the seductive chanteuse persona she attempts to adopt; her material too rough around the edges to be intimate and individual. As such the set is split between freewheeling, rollicking moments when the star and her band give themselves freedom to enjoy themselves, building to crescendos before allowing them to dissipate on the whim of Clark. But these moments are diluted by the candle in the air pieces where St Vincent slips over into her other character. At points it is a little too twee and affected – as Clark tries to adopt a shy, naïve posture totally at odds with her confrontational stance of moments earlier. The tempo is also disrupted by the band's departure and return on several occasions, allowing St Vincent several solo sections. Clark uses two microphones - a la Isaac Brock or Mark Linkous - to convey the volatile changing of tempo and mood where her voice is unable to do so. At points this works, but the trick gets tired and becomes irritating. Running through the majority of her 'Marry Me' album for the set, St Vincent sounds like an electronic river, eddying and flowing in whichever direction suits her best, at times fizzing with excitement, at others calm and placid, moving downstream in a tranquil lullaby. Returning for an encore of ‘These Days’ by Jackson Browne, St Vincent closes with élan and charm. A rewarding set, but over complicated and too unpredictable, running in a hundred different directions simultaneously without going the whole distance in any of them.

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