IN CONCERT : Sweet Charity – St. Vincent, aka Annie Clarks, rocks Velvet Jones

February 15, 2008 12:31 PM
Taking a break from two of the largest-sounding bands at the moment — Sufjan Stevens’ touring group, and the 23-member Polyphonic Spree — one might think St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, would reveal herself as a stripped-to-the-basics singer-songwriter. But not so.
“Marry Me,” her 2007 solo debut, shows Clark can do the epic thing too. A savvy mix of pop and experimental, of confessional voice and dramatic scope, St. Vincent’s album made many print and blog Top 10 lists in December. The multi-instrumentalist brings her four-piece band to Velvet Jones on Saturday. So what feelings does Ms. Clark have for the patron saint of charity?
“It’s actually a family name,” she says of her alias. “I was going through some old family albums, and ” it’s my great-grandmother’s middle name.”
Clark hails from Dallas and spent her early teens learning guitar, first with lessons, then “organically.” For a while, Clark did the singer-songwriter thing. “I went to some very terrible open mic nights,” she says.
Then the Polyphonic Spree happened. The symphonic-rock group also hails from Dallas, and was out to leave on tour in support of their second album.
“My friend Toby, who played theremin in the band, told me, ‘you should try out,’ ” she says. “Really, I think he wanted someone to hang out with on tour.” Clark auditioned as guitarist on a Tuesday — by the weekend she was flying off for the first leg of the summer 2005 tour.
When she returned home, months later, a song appeared, called “Marry Me.”
“It came out in one sitting at the piano,” she says of the song which expresses, if not love, a sort of “road-weariness.” The tour had been “demoralizing and fun,” she says, with the band sometimes playing to near-empty rooms.
“But it builds character,” she jokes. “It was good to shake off the cobwebs and play music for myself.”
“I was really inspired by that song,” she says. “I was at a songwriting level that I could keep at ” I decided at that point it would be the linchpin to build an album around that song.”
The album that resulted from that initial session in winter and stretched into the fall of 2006 is a “homage to various heroes from a lifetime of listening.” Not that Clark wears her references on her sleeve — this is no pastiche or retro sound.
Playing a majority of the instruments on the album and applying strings and choirs that would make George Martin proud, Clark gladly discusses trying to replicate the drum sound of the first Plastic Ono Band album, or the “gutty” sound of The Breeders on her album’s opening track, “Now Now.”
If parts sound Bowie-esque, the answer is more obvious: Mike Garson, Bowie’s pianist on “Aladdin Sane,” adds his signature sound to several songs. The two met in Minneapolis at a Polyphonic Spree session.
“We kept in touch,” she says. “I sent him some sketches of songs and he wrote back.”
The pianist then sent tracks recorded in California, which Clark added to the studio mixes.
“It was a very 2006 way of recording,” she says.
Although Clark has been promoting “Marry Me” with solo guitar appearances, this tour brings out a full band, all handling several instruments each. Clark supplements her own guitar with triggered samples and racks of effects, including her favorite, the Moogerfooger.
“We’re able to create a bigger sound than just four people,” she says. It’s inspired a sort of slogan for the band. “We’re four, but exponentially, we’re 16.”
ST. VINCENT, with Foreign Born, The Coral Sea, and Watercolor Paintings
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Velvet Jones, 423 State St.
Cost: $10
Information: 390-0937,
©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

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