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13th November 2017

Live: St Vincent

St Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION performance — stripped back to its bare components — is something of a mixed bag

St Vincent’s live tour of her new album MASSEDUCTION has seemingly caused a massive divide amongst her audience. I see why when she appears on stage, completely alone with just her guitar and red latex thigh high boots to support her: despite the multilayered sound on her album, only herself and her guitar are live.

Perhaps this is part of her message, that nothing is truly, wholly authentic? Either way, this had audience comments ranging from “she totally bossed it, armed with just a guitar and backing track” to comparisons with Karaoke. Naturally, I had to see for myself.

After mixing up the O2 Ritz and the O2 Apollo, I stumbled in just in time to catch the opening act — which was actually a short “horror” film by St Vincent herself, real name Annie Clark, entitled The Birthday.

It was good. Filmed in her classic LA cynic style, a mother attempts to conceal the death of her husband on the day of her daughters Birthday by stuffing his corpse into a Panda suit, perhaps to protect her daughter from the trauma, perhaps to protect herself from the embarrassment.

The film also features a sexy yet incredibly creepy nanny, who knocks the propped up bear into the birthday cake. The jig is up. I and the rest of the audience laughed out loud at the faux-fearful take on horror, something Clark herself said she couldn’t handle. The too bright pop colours resonated with her new album artwork, perhaps setting us up for what was to come.

The concert itself was equally divisive for me but in a different way. Maybe it in the wake of being so entertained by the film, but I found the first half remarkably underwhelming.

Perhaps a downside of her being solo on stage is that there was very little in the way of visual stimulus. It wasn’t until 40 minutes in, as a black stage curtains are pulled back to reveal a backdrop of a cartoon screaming, fanged woman, that there was something new to look at.

From this point on, however, I got pretty into it: she played the three main hits from her first, self-titled album.

After that triad, SV left the stage for a small break, returning in a new PVC costume, now with added screens of various repetitive clips depicting falsehood and overindulgence. For example, dialling and eventually crushing buttons on a phone that is actually a cake, or SV eating doughnuts with wriggling, pop coloured insects on them.

Musically, this half rocked, and I spent most of it fascinated. The more rock style songs were interspersed with beautiful ballads, including the single ‘New York’.

Another, and the highlight of the concert for me, was ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’, which gave me chills — which are repeating on me now as I relive it to write my article. This song needed no visual backing — but had only a split second of it, enforcing the line, “of course I blame me.” My heart broke.

The last song of the concert was preceded by a small speech from SV: “Manchester, we live in crazy times… but I hope when the cars crash into one another, when the walls come down, we can all run to each other.” The song then ironically ended with the repetitive final lines “It is not the end.”

I left the concert pensive over the previous year. Trump elected president, terrorist attacks everywhere; indeed these are crazy times, and SV’s album attempts to call attention to the mass-seduction that stops us complaining, panem et circenses style.

I wonder whether her addition of screens in the second half is to prove her point: I wasn’t really interested until there was some visual stimulus “selling” her concert to me. Whether St Vincent was getting across her point or falling victim to it, I’m unsure.

But the fact it left me questioning what I had just watched is, I suppose, a good start.

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