Extreme times call for extreme pop stars and Annie Clark fits the bill perfectly.
After four progressively more audacious albums as St Vincent, her latest, Masseduction, may be her masterpiece – and the first great record of the Age of Trump.
A tumultuous mash-up of Prince, Bowie, Talking Heads, Kraftwerk and Beck, it confirms 35 year old Clark as the era’s outstanding pop enigma – and the musician best placed to re-contextualise upheavals, political and otherwise, as accessible yet serious art.
An album this uncompromising deserves more than a conventional rock concert – and, on the latest leg of her European tour, Clark delivered just the sort of risk-taking tour de force that was required.
It was high concept and often challenging – a call back to the days when music was about expanding horizons and unseating received wisdoms rather than padding out Spotify playlists.
Clark seemed tentative as she appeared at the side of the stage in a pink PVC onesie. She was possibly reeling from a flurry of negative reviews of a London date earlier in the week, when the British press more less wrote off her new show as pretentious (it obviously is) and stultifying (could not be further from the truth).
Or maybe she was nervous because her ex, Cara Delevingne, was watching from one of the Olympia boxes (with movie star pal Chloë Grace Moretz tagging along).
Either way, the singer looked tired and coiled with tension as she emerged to perform, in chronological order, material from her earlier albums.
Annoyingly the selfie-snapping millennial crowd was completely ignorant of and indifferent towards the fantastic Now Now, the first track from 2007’s Marry Me. Undeterred, she made her way from left to right, wending through highlights from 2009’s Actor and 2011’s Strange Mercy.
As Clark moved between the four mics positioned at intervals, the curtain behind gradually revealed a caricature of the artist inspired by Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
Another influence was Talking Heads’s classic concert movie Stop Making Sense in which the set builds from bare-boned to carnivalesque. Here, Clarke remained the only musician but, after a brief intermission, had swapped into a silver sci-fi corset while the video screen projected disturbing short-films commissioned for Masseduction (and produced by Carrie Brownstein, of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia).
She blazed all the way through the new record, which encompassed Prince-style grooves, molten guitars (Clark is acknowledged as one of the outstanding modern axe-wielders) and full-throated confessions. A bone fide sing-along attended New York, a valentine to the lover who has shredded her emotions (the internet gossip is that it’s about Delevingne).
By laying her feelings out on a slab, the otherwise imperious Clark gave a glimpse of the vulnerable woman behind the stomping pop automaton.
As UK critics suggested, more of this humanity might have helped. But that was a quibble and, if you could set aside the lack of intimacy, the gig was evidence that, now more than ever, Annie’s on fire.
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