Review: St. Vincent at Walker Art Center

Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, brought her new album, “Strange Mercy,” to the Walker last night.

St. Vincent performs Sunday at the Walker Art Center.

St. Vincent performs Sunday at the Walker Art Center.

by Sally Hedberg


Annie Clark (St. Vincent) has sustained a career by creating music that exists just outside the parameters of a tangible reality. Her doe-ish disposition and startling beauty forge a stark contrast with the underlying darkness and discomfort hinted at in her music. For an artist so lauded for the distinctive, boundary-pushing, art rock of her first two albums, it was debatable if her latest LP, âÄúStrange MercyâÄù would be able to invoke the same brand of genius. Well, it did. And last night, in a powerful set at the Walker Art Center, she proved just exactly the caliber of artist and performer she has become.

Taking the stage first was Welsh singer/songwriter Cate LeBon. She had a low, pretty voice (sounded like Nico) but thatâÄôs about it. The whole girl-and-her-acoustic-guitar thing died for me a long time ago and, again, the strength of her pipes was completely underwhelmed by a lack of guitar complexity. With a voice like that she should have been fronting a rock band, or just covering more Velvet Underground. No matter, the truth of it all was that the only thing permeating the mind was St. Vincent. And thankfully, after a six-song set and a âÄúshort breakâÄù it was time.

The thing is, Annie Clark could lure ships to their doom before she even opened her mouth to sing. With creamed complexion, a tall frame and the face of a Disney princess, sheâÄôs utterly striking, and more importantly, utterly talented. After brief technical difficulty and a false start, Clark and crew (a drummer, a soundboard guy and a keyboardist) kicked off the evening with âÄúCruel,âÄù a single off of her latest album. This effectively set the mood in three ways. 1) It showed ClarkâÄôs insane guitar chops, putting her mild-mannered opener instantly to shame. 2) She hit the high notes with incredible force, proving that the talent really is all her own. 3) There was a colored lights show, creating the hazy aesthetic of a Lynch-ian dream sequence, which is to say, it looked sweet.

The set was prepped to be amazing and really, it was. Centering heavily on material from âÄúStrange Mercy,âÄù Clark moved about the stage in a violent manner, mirroring the corrosive guitar in songs like âÄúSurgeonâÄù and âÄúDilettante,âÄù and adding to the aforementioned contrast. The sheer technical difficulty of her vocals was astonishing. ClarkâÄôs voice is rich and honeyed like a jazz queenâÄôs and applied to the tension-building layers of her music, it demands a grueling performance. But by the looks of her measured breathing on âÄúChloe in the Afternoon,âÄù Clark has the technique of classical voice training mastered and her stamina was evident.

 âÄúStrange Mercy,âÄù was another standout track, a delicate, wistful song that provided a breather from all of the intensity. She played for a lengthy amount of time, especially for someone who had played a set just a few hours prior.  Additionally, she was shy in her interactions with the audience, a total contradiction to the electric force that charged her every movement on stage.

By the time she concluded with an explosive rendition of âÄúYour Lips are Red,âÄù it was clear that Clark was exhausted too (though she still returned with a two-song encore, that, to my dismay, did not include her Tom Waits cover).

Leaving the concert provoked some unexpected conclusions. On previous albums

 Clark explicitly shaped an assembly of metaphors for listeners to sift through. âÄúStrange Mercy,âÄù while still cryptic, hits closer to home and after seeing it performed the extraordinary truth of it all is that her reality is far more absorbing than her fantasy.