St. Vincent delivers a quiet riot at Velvet Jones : Small in stature, Annie Clark proved she can shred a guitar, even in a noisy bar

February 19, 2008 7:42 AM

Annie Clark packs a loud sound for someone with such a tiny frame. Seeming almost lost behind three microphones and effects pedals, her four-piece rock ensemble and the monitors, Ms. Clark made her first visit Saturday to Santa Barbara, under the moniker St. Vincent, in an attempt to duplicate the intricacies of her self-titled album at Velvet Jones.
As a trial balloon, it only half flew. For those who know the album and are convinced Ms. Clark’s side project was one of the better releases of last year, only the sound mix stood between her and success. For those who had no idea about Ms. Clark (of The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens bands), she had a hard time communicating her idiosyncrasies to the audience.
Take, for instance, the opening salvo on both the album and at Saturday’s concert — the swirling, pounding “Now, Now.” Despite the band’s hammering drums, Ms. Clark’s schizoid character-play had to be dropped for simplicity, as the dynamics between verse and chorus became lost in the wall of sound. Compared to Chuck Prophet’s rock show earlier that night at Lobero Theatre, St. Vincent seemed hampered by the venue. It was crowded onstage and even the music needed to spread out.
But as a guitarist, Ms. Clark has much to offer. Her fingers are nimble and spidery, and she often seems surprised by what her instrument says back to her. This quirkiness made St. Vincent endearing. And speaking of quirky, her between-song patter showed a preoccupation with cocktails she assumed Santa Barbarans might drink — Long Island Iced Teas with Kahlua.
The band — Billy Flynn on guitar, Daniel Heart on violin and Walker Adams on drums — expanded its instruments to play bells, melodica, bass pedals and samples (including Ms. Clark’s voice as backing vocals and snippets of Mike Garson’s piano work). Ms. Clark’s diversions into moments of ultra-reflective, quiet guitar work was lost on the crowd, who turned back to their drinks and friends and text messaging and what have you, despite having claimed space near the stage. Were these people fans or did they just want to be seen? Either way, a clueless and rude face was shown Saturday night.
But for those paying attention, Ms. Clark delivered a spot-on “Jesus Saves, I Spend” and her late-period Beatle-esque “Marry Me,” the title track on the St. Vincent album. Her vocals were strong, but overwhelmed by the thump of the drums and the heavy bass. Her effect-laden second microphone might have been turned off at times, too.
Ms. Clark’s band took a break while she played a solo, accompanied by her harpsichord-like guitar. But the crowd’s noise was overwhelming, and just one song in, she called the band back.
Ms. Clark then took the fiery “Paris Is Burning” and slowed it down to a frightening dirge. There was a little too much space in this arrangement, and the song needed a boost. That came in the form of show closer “Your Lips Are Red,” which recalls the scary thrust of Peter Gabriel’s earlier albums mixed in with the askance look of a Bjork or PJ Harvey. Finally letting go with guitar pyrotechnics, Ms. Clark finished the concert with her guitar left on the floor, feeding back among effects pedals and monitors.

©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

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