Fillmore Miami Beach
Monday, October 6, 2014
Better Than: Doing the Automaton Shuffle alone.
"Hello to all of you men and women out there," said St. Vincent, welcoming a few thousand art-rock acolytes to the Fillmore Miami Beach last night.
"And," she added, after a pregnant pause, "all of you who fall into the gaps between those two genders."
It was an uncommon and quite formal (if highly enlightened) way to kick off a couple hours of rock 'n' roll.
But that's the thing about St. Vincent, otherwise known as humanoid entity Annie Clark ... She is uncommon and often quite formal, even strangely so, especially for a rock star.
In fact, Ms. Clark sometimes seems as though she just might be the most highly advanced, intellectually elevated, emotionally controlled, and socially sophisticated of all entertainers on Earth.
But also ... Perhaps post-human. Maybe a robot.
Beautiful, intelligent, talented, yet distant -- Clark's always cultivated a public persona that doesn't rely much on raw human qualities, like undiluted anger, or conventional rock-star appeal.
Instead, she belongs to the high-concept, deeply performative art-rock tradition of David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, and David Byrne, with whom she released last year's collaborative Love This Giant.
So, in short, St. Vincent's music is never exactly about the real Annie Clark. It's more about her fictional self. Or selves.
And now, for the new self-titled St. Vincent album and accompanying tour, Clark has actually slipped deeper into character -- adopting an even chillier, mechanical facade that's sometimes tough to love, though alluring as ever.
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Undeniably, there was a robotic quality to last night's St. Vincent show. (And probably every night's St. Vincent show.) But that's not an entirely bad thing. After all, it's an intrinsic component of Clark's latest artistic concept.
Yes, the exact same setlist is played in every city. And there is an immaculately rehearsed, metronomic precision to the performance of each song that can sort of stunt one's visceral, fuck-yeah-rock-'n'-roll reaction to the music. (There's basically no foot-stomping or headbanging, but lots of standing still, as if contemplating an enigmatic performance piece at the museum of modern art.)
Of course, though, this machine-like exactness also means that Clark's vocals are perfect. Her guitar work is impeccable. And her favorite new dance move, which we here at Crossfade have decided to name the Automaton Shuffle (as seen on Saturday Night Live and the Fillmore Miami Beach stage), is flawless.
Another quasi-robotic affectation is Clark's between-song banter, which consists of speaking to the audience in a stream-of-consciousness kind of poetry that sounds like it was auto-written by a supercomputer.
As she articulated for her acolytes during a two-minute speech last night: "I think we have a couple things in common. Like, for example, first and foremost, you were born before the 21st century. And sometimes, when you laugh, your lip curls slightly downward, so it sounds like you're laughing, but it looks like you're crying.
"Your favorite word here is, umm, umm, hmm, hmm, orgiastic! And once when you were little, you made a hot-air balloon out of a bedsheet. You held it up, you jumped off your bed, and each time you expected to fly. And each time, though you had so much hope in your heart, you were thwarted by that unfortunate thing we call gravity. But you tried and tried and tried no less, over and over and over again. And the reason that we're all here is that, no matter how many times we jumped off and sprained our ankles and broke our noses or just hurt our own pride, we never, ever, ever gave up hope!"
But then ...
There were those moments and explosions of real emotion, when Annie Clark herself seemed to become genuinely enraptured -- veering off script, losing slight command of her character, and letting the robot mask slip.
She burned and yearned through post-post-modern torch song "I Prefer Your Love to Jesus." She mischievously purred the "Oh, what an ordinary day/Take out the garbage, masturbate" lyrics off "Birth in Reverse." And she smirkingly ripped through a cock-rock solo before skittering off into no-wave noise on "Prince Johnny."
However, Clark saved her most fearless, furious, and seemingly unrehearsed flash for the encore: a loud, unrestrained, unrelenting 10-minute take of "Your Lips Are Red" off her 2007 debut album, Marry Me.
She stalked the shadows. She crowd-surfed while letting fans contribute to her atonal guitar solo. And she flopped back to the edge of the stage, writhing like a Nexus-6 replicant on the fritz.
"Annie!" her acolytes cried. "Annie! Annie! Annie!"
St. Vincent's Setlist:
-"Every Tear Disappears"
-"I Prefer Your Love to Jesus"
-"Laughing With a Mouth of Blood"
-"Actor Out of Work"
-"Birth in Reverse"
-"Bring Me Your Loves"
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-"Your Lips Are Red"