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Annie Clark of St. Vincent has two stage presences: she is either wide-eyed, with an expressionless, impenetrable stare or releases her limbs into a musical collapse, swaying in unity with her guitar but being someplace else entirely. Her set Friday night at the Black Cat oscillated between these two energies, delicate stoicism and cathartic commotion.
Clark opened the set with “The Strangers,” a track from the new St. Vincent record, Actor (4AD), released two weeks ago. The new songs are characteristically Annie Clark’s, lush, poppy melodies fit inside moody and eerily enchanting structures. The songs pulsate with a chorus of her own voice and shake fists with fuzz-affected breakdowns. The album has more woodwind lilts and symphonic twirls than her last. She told Rolling Stone that in preparation for the album she watched Disney films like Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and Beauty and the Beast for inspiration. And indeed several of the tracks from Actor unwind like a whimsical fairy tale score.
Bringing some of the eclectic album sounds to the stage, She brought McKenzie Smith, saxophone/flute and Paul Alexander, clarinet/violin, along for this tour. While not recreating the flood of otherworldly orchestral sound on Actor, Smith and Alexander added trills and guided melody to the otherwise minimal output.
High up in the set was “Marry Me,” the self-titled track from her 2007 debut album on Beggars Banquet. She said the song was about “a syndicated television series that could find on your Fox listings,” referring to the now defunct Arrested Development.
“So marry me, John/Marry me, John, I’ll be so good to you,” she wails in the chorus. “You won’t realize I’m gone. You won’t realize I’m gone.”
For the encore she played a complete freaked-out version of “Your Lips are Red,” which devolved into Annie thrashing on the ground, into a erratic noise bout. When the chaos faded, Alexander’s violin emerged from the wreckage with a tuneful pickup. The resonant bass of the hook then kicked in and Annie transformed from guitar-shaking clamorer to hypnotizing songstress.