Photo by Ashley Gordon.
“I’m a little bit suspicious of you,” Annie Clark, alias St. Vincent, sweetly deadpanned to the vigorously vocal crowd jammed into the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen’s ad hoc performance space, a make-shift but cozy black box boasting no standard venue comforts like a backstage area (relevant later) or a coat check (also relevant later).
Indeed, these gig-goers seemed unreal—Annie’s audience (as they truly were hers) absorbed every song with a patient energy and tenacious focus that she reciprocated graciously. And the songs—they shone like strange diamonds under Annie’s steadfast polishing cloth, as she stripped away production layers from her lovely if complex studio recordings, clearing away all but the barest, bravest beauty from this solo performance.
Without her band, Annie was all control and nuance, and every overarticulated lyric and warbling lilt hit its mark. Even the dreamy surf rock fuzz was expertly manicured. Her signature quirks—coltish headshakes and distant deathstares—seemed tempered by the decidedly supportive ambiance that proffered all the encouragement of a roomful of best friends slipped fivers to cheer at an open mic night.
But these were no paid-off audience plants—the crowd was overwhelmingly fan-dominated, and their engagement was genuine. The magical symbiosis of Annie and the audience continued through the five-minute endurance test "Your Lips Are Red," as her request for our help in clapping out the time was dutifully sustained while she shredded her guitar to ribbons. A projector threw rainbow kaleidoscope stills on the wall behind her while the venue's disco ball insistently sprinkled all with dancehall mirrorlight. It was odd, but pretty—a fitting visual for St. Vincent's aural aesthetic. In the silent seconds during which she prepped for each song, people bided the time with bated breath, spellbound, present, happy.
When Annie announced the next song as her last, the mesmerized groundlings gave up a cute collective moan that was more wistful than plaintive. That there would be an encore was a foregone conclusion, doubtless to the point that even modest Miss Clark could not make any pretenses of leaving the stage: "If this were a normal night, I could go backstage and relax and have my tour manager fan me and feed me grapes... Tonight, let's just have fun."
The fantasy world crafted by St. Vincent lingered on beyond the set—and so did the audience. With no backstage retreat, Annie became apotheosized on a cloud of fan love, with a court 20 or 30 strong queuing for an opportunity for compliment gushing, cheek kissing, and autographed singles. And like the saint she is, she remained warm and appreciative for every last one.
The only less than flawless aspect of the night was that Annie was right to be suspicious of at least one member of the audience. With no coat check, Hoxton became prime grifter grounds—theft reports included a St. Vincent single and this reporter's laptop. (But we don't blame you, Annie—you're a saint, not god.) And so, two pearls of wisdom surface from the night: 1. Watch your stuff at all times and 2. Watch St. Vincent at any opportunity. You'll have no regrets heeding both.
Words by Alice Shyy