I would need a working knowledge of Fulminology to even begin to describe the glorious bedlam that was St. Vincent’s show at Birmingham’s HMV Institute last week.
St. Vincent, known off-stage as Annie Clarke, delivered the most flamboyant, circuslike performance I have ever seen. Rock ‘n’ Roll is categorically not dead.
The night commenced with a fiery performance from indie-rockers, Coves [7/10], a Warwickshire duo made up of Beck Wood and John Ridgard. To pinpoint their musical influence would necessitate an entire other article. Think Janis Joplin meets Howling Bells with The Pierces dusted over the top. Their stage-energy was thrilling and had people abandoning their places in the bar queue. Beck Wood could pass for a 1960s psychedelic-rock veteran: fully equipped with a hairstyle Joni Mitchell would be proud of, floaty drapery, and ethereal Luna Lovegood dance moves.
The crowd for St. Vincent [9/10] was probably the most mature crowd I have been in, and that had nothing to do with the several conspicuously aged folk scattered around the room. Everyone was respectfully engrossed throughout the two-hour long set, and barely a single phone was obscuringly floating around. Before St. Vincent’s arrival to the stage, a robotic voice flooded the speakers, urging everyone to “refrain from digitally recording their experience”. One of the leading songs from the latest record, ‘Digital Witness’, perfectly illustrates the idea St. Vincent is playing with: “Digital witnesses, what’s the point of even sleeping? / If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me / What’s the point of doing anything?”. She has stated in interviews that the track is an exploration of “the idealised version of the self that we are able to create in a digital world” and how this “intersects with humanity”. In a world where most gigs are watched through a screen, this request was welcomed, and almost religiously obeyed. Of course, once St. Vincent decided to hike herself over the barrier and climb up into the balconies during the encore, the cameras came out.
I feel like it would be more fitting to describe this show as an extravaganza rather than simply a gig. From the offset, St. Vincent maintained an exceptionally charismatic persona that I can only explain as extraterrestrial. She sprung around the stage doing various erratic dance moves and head tilts. She was rather impossible to take your eyes off of, out of fear of missing what she would do next.
The stage set-up was glitteringly minimalist and flooded with soft, pastel, lilac and blue lights, regularly disturbed by frenzies of strobes and shattering distortions. St. Vincent graced her triple-tiered white podium with an array of fine guitars and flawlessly dished out one animated track after the other. I think it’s safe to say that everyone who has seen her live envies the boundless energy she has. On top of being a cripplingly unique, unapologetic and tireless performer, she is a truly great musician. She confidently churned out one guitar shred after the other, as well as all of the distinctively stiff electronic riffs this album is home to. St. Vincent integrated tickling monologues throughout her set, which broke down the wall between performer and attendee, and had the perfect balance of informality and scriptedness. Towards the end, she gave her guitar to people in the crowd and took pictures for them, before scaling the inside of the building. It’s hard to tell whether this was planned, or just merely an act of casual rebellion. Either way, it made for both a hilarious and shocking experience.
I wouldn’t hesitate to go and see this digital mad-hatter of a lady again.