MUSIC | St. Vincent sands down the rough edges at First Ave

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Brooklyn guitar virtuoso St. Vincent (Annie Clark) played First Avenue on Thursday night, touring in support of her recent album Actor. The evening’s audience was surprisingly sparse, considering that the new record has received a great deal of critical praise. Clark didn’t seem to mind, though, treating those who were there to an intimate and tranquil set.

Backed by a violinist, a bassist, a drummer, and a woodwinds journeyman, Clark started off the evening with “Marry Me,” a hit from her 2007 breakout debut of the same name. While the energy of the show never really took off, the sprightly Clark connected with the audience by chatting them up between songs. She not only expressed her love for the Twin Cities, but also related a few stories about the journey there from Omaha the previous night—notably, the experience of encountering Miss Nebraska at a Starbucks. Clark played several songs from Actor, including “Actor Out of Work,” “Marrow,” and a rendition of “The Strangers” in which Clark seemed to struggle a bit to keep up with the song’s pacing. Older songs were also well-represented, with “Now, Now,” “Your Lips are Red,” and “Paris is Burning” making appearances. The signature spastic guitars in “Lips” gave the audience a glimpse of Clark’s sick guitar chops; however, for most of the evening her playing was somewhat reserved.

According to the local St. Vincent experts in attendance, Thursday’s show wasn’t the best they had ever seen but it was also far from the worst. Where the show succeeded was in Clark’s comfortable and mutually appreciative rapport with the audience as well as the expansive feel that a backing band brings to her sound. As someone who has only ever seen her solo before, I can testify that the band experience is much different and in many ways more appealing due to its sanding down of the rough edges of Clark’s sometimes abrasive playing style. Even with a band, though, the show’s central focus always remained Clark herself; never more than when she started out her two-song encore with “The Party,” a ballad that showed off her gorgeous pipes. The Twin Cities seem to have a special connection with St. Vincent (she visited no fewer than sixteen times in 2007), and the show gave the feeling that one was witnessing an affectionate meeting between old friends.

Jon Behm (jonbehm@gmail.com) is a Minneapolis-based photographer and writer. While his specialty is music, Jon has a wide variety of interests that tend to take him all over the Twin Cities on a daily basis.

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