If St. Vincent's Annie Clark applied the same philosophy she uses for songwriting to painting, she'd be splattering blood and guts on a Monet. Her set at the Beachland Ballroom last night began with “The Strangers,” the same track that opens her latest album, Actor. As her ethereal voice echoed through the ballroom, meandering flute and violin set the scene with calm beauty. But sure enough, Clark covered that beauty with grime, attacking her guitar with a viciousness that felt exhilaratingly wrong, especially when you consider the context.
Band members Daniel Hart warmed the room up with his violin, Evan Smith alternated between flute, keys and sax, Anthony LeMarca sped things up on the drums and William Flynn held the show together on bass. All eyes were on Clark (plus, everyone was taking a million pictures; she’s a knockout), but the solid musicianship of her four backing players is an essential part of St. Vincent's sound.
Clark remarked that last time they played Cleveland, they were 10 people in the Beachland's connecting Tavern. Since then, Actor has rightfully found a great deal of success. On “Save Me From What I Want,” the Brooklyn native experimented with jazzy, bouncy guitar, and mixed lyrics like “I think I love you, I think I’m mad” with delightfully messy distortion on “Actor Out of Work.”
The audience went completely silent between all the cheers and applause. Jaws dropped, and you could practically hear the sound of 100 guys' hearts beating when Clark crooned “Marry Me,” one of the night’s best vocal showcases. When she sang, “Oh John, let’s do what Mary and Joseph did … without the kid,” the crowd erupted into applause, and she politely responded, “Thank you for getting the joke,” before finishing the song.
Sometimes spooky and sweet are best combined. Sometimes calm waves require grimy dirt to keep things interesting. If that's true, Clark proved last night that she's the queen of juxtaposition. —Danielle Sills