St Vincent – review

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

You wouldn't want to call Annie Clark – the Texas-born singer-guitarist who named herself after the hospital where Dylan Thomas died – pretentious, but she once offered this explanation for her stage name: "It's the place where poetry comes to die. That's me."

Her show is speckled with other such moments of off-kilter impenetrability, which seem designed to leave the onlooker not only dazzled but just a tad impatient. She and her band often appear to be at musical loggerheads, yielding a storm of dissonance that's closer to jazz than rock. Heightening the disorientation, the stage is lit from behind, and strobes bombard the air. Employing half a dozen foot pedals, Clark extracts maximum fuzziness from her guitar, her plectrum technique so fierce that a woman sitting near me gasps: "She plays like a man!"

Her singing and elliptical lyrics, though, are anything but masculine. Clark's voice is pure and luscious, and you just wish she would cut the noise occasionally so it could be heard properly. Eventually she does; minimally backed by a crackling synth, her vocals prowl freely around the minor chords of the new song Year of the Tiger. "When I was young, Coach called me the tiger … oh, America, can I owe you one?" she croons, and although that could mean anything, it sends prickles up the spine.

Her current (third) album, Strange Mercy, produces some of the set's most tingling moments, with Chloe in the Afternoon adding a queasy physical desire to the mix. But the indubitable main event is a cover of the Pop Group's She Is Beyond Good and Evil, with that band's Mark Stewart as a yowling guest singer. It's tremendous – a firefight of vocoder-distorted vocals and funk-rock rhythms that renders the rest of the night tame by contrast – and that's saying something.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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