London Student

St Vincent at Brixton Academy: “Choreographed karaoke”

Clad in a pink PVC leotard and matching thigh-high boots, St Vincent steps out from behind a red curtain and onto a bare stage like a superhero arriving late to a cabaret. It’s a dramatic entrance promising an enthralling evening of artful pop-theatre.
But instead the show was a strange, merciless sacrifice of sound and substance for style and aesthetic. St Vincent (aka Annie Clark) has dispensed with her talented live band in favour of a backing track. During the first set – a chronological tour through her back catalogue – this engendered a flat atmosphere, with the crowd only really responding to the abrasive authenticity of the spasmodic stabs from Clark’s angular guitar.

Singles ‘Cruel’ and ‘Digital Witness’ were stripped of their deranged brilliance with beguiling melodies and strutting jazz-funk riffs buried by a bland club remix. And when the mind-numbing electro beats abated, mushy string arrangements were on hand to over-emote the subtleties of ‘Marry Me’ and ‘Strange Mercy’.

On rare occasions Clark restyled songs successfully: the jagged metallic riffs of ‘Birth In Reverse’ were enjoyably transposed into a hyper disco rave, while throbbing sub-bass emphasised the constrained cool of ‘Cheerleader’. Tracks from MASSEDUCTION – performed in its entirety – also worked better, but the soulless, metronomic precision of a backing track was not conducive to crowd singalongs or dancing. ‘Los Ageless’ is a compelling new single but failed to translate live, while the night ended with a lethargic replication of MASSEDUCTION’s weaker second half.

And for what? Clark spent most of the concert stood static while recycled music video clips and blocks of lurid neon colour were thrown behind her. Considering all that was sacrificed, the visuals were too minimal and uniform to be arresting or meaningful.

Critics have argued that performing solo links to MASSEDUCTION’s exploration of celebrity superficiality. But these dubious claims only expose the vacuity of packaged pop where brand is more important than sound. Despite its ‘artistic aspirations’, this was essentially choreographed karaoke.


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Sam Taylor

Sam Taylor is an arts journalist who recently graduated with an English degree from UCL. He writes film and music reviews for the Financial Times, conducts interviews for The Cusp and edits London Student’s Review section. He has also been published by Jazzwise and The Independent and plays lead guitar in alt-rock band Where’s John?

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