Stepping into a distinctly middle-aged presence at the Albert Hall, one of Manchester’s newest and most highly regarded venues, I find a surprisingly simple stage set-up consisting of a single small pyramid of stairs—nothing more. Since its debut last year, the Albert Hall has presented an extremely impressive repertoire of artists who, on the whole, benefit from the venue’s superior sound system, light rigging and gothic ambience. However, for St. Vincent’s aims at a minimalist performance, the venue’s grandeur seems to engulf rather than compliment.
The venue’s brash personality means that, for a show to truly excel here, artists need a crafted and characteristic performance that squares up to the venue. Clearly influenced by Kate Bush, singer Annie Clark’s synchronised body gestures aim to add an extra dimension to each song but unfortunately fail to form a complete artistic addition to the set. Furthermore, the stark halts in-between songs completely cut you off from the world Clark spent the last 3 minutes trying to draw you into, and the band members themselves often stand motionless like the crowd.
Nevertheless, the performance still hints at something greater as the band’s sound is simply huge. Latest album St. Vincent’s focus on bass and electronic rhythm is brought to the stage with utmost clarity and Clark’s vocals are the guiding light which lead the set to some complex and, at times, beautifully palpable harmonies.
Memorable points did exist, with Clark letting the audience have their way with her guitar whilst climbing out of the stage via the balcony before returning to finish the encore, but after frequent stage invasions by crew members, it felt as if the show’s connections with the audience were constantly being severed.
Musically, the set was fantastic and, as always, the Albert Hall squeezed every last drop of sound from the band, especially during a solo performance of ‘Strange Mercy’, which contained some of the most dynamic electric guitar sounds I’d ever heard live. But the missing ingredient is orchestration; if they master that then they’re onto something special.