04 March 2008

Review: St. Vincent

Music Hall of Williamsburg, 28 February 2008

That's right, I actually went to see music again. Been a while. To be more specific, I saw shows three nights in a row last week starting with a fresh infusion of Ms. Annie Clark at the newish Music Hall in Hipsterburg.

Not sure I can say too much more about St. Vincent without seeming like a drooling fanboy (if I don't already), but the show was pretty sweet and did little to dispel my love. I guess my one complaint this time would be the fact that I'm just about ready for some new material after seeing her 5 times and listening a bunch more over the last year, but hey, dem's the breaks.

The venue is like the Brooklyn version of Bowery Ballroom, seeing as it's owned and run by the same folks (actually the old Northsix redone). But man, they seemed to design it to the detail after the over-the-river cousin with an almost identical downstairs bar and a strikingly similar stage set-up. The sound was superb and the room is a little bit smaller and cozier and really could become one of the best places in the 5 Boroughs to see music in short time.

The opener was Foreign Born who announced they were from California. That struck me as weird... big state, folks, be more specific. These guys did power pop with some nice musicianship. The guitar player started right off with some downright Garcia-esque chops and the bassist and drummer rounded out the trio quite nicely. The problem was that it wasn't a trio, but a quartet with a lead guy playing acoustic guitar and singing. Not that he was bad, but the vocals were really sub par and the songwriting left much to be desired. The songs really were nondescript in the worst kind of way, but if you just settled your ears on the other three guys it was pretty enjoyable. Frankly, I'd probably see these guys again just to watch the nice tight playing of the backing band.

St. Vincent came on a bit after 11 with the "full band" -- i.e. a drummer, a bassist and a violin player. They started with a kind of composed wall-of-sound effect that lasted maybe a minute and zig-zagged with some whiplash into the opening number, which may have been "Now Now," but a week later I can't be expected to remember exact song order. Basically they ran through the album "Marry Me" in some random order with maybe one or two newish songs thrown in the mix. But the playing of the songs has really evolved and sharpened over the course of the year. The confidence of Annie and the road-tested chemistry of her band brought out the full aroma of her songs. Those little composed bits of instrumental music segued a few tunes or served as an introduction to others. These were pretty cool overall and pointed at some new directions she might take the show in tours to come... we'll see. Before "Human Racing" her bandmates picked up these little bells and she kind of acapella'd an improvised "Ring My Bell" while they did indeed ring. These sections seemed to have little to no connection to the songs they were serving up and the jarring effect was, all and all, pretty nifty, I thought. Annie took one song solo -- her swell cover of "Dig A Pony" -- and did some short-lived but raging fingerwork on her big, fat red guitar. The band really works well for her, although it's not clear to me that they entirely enjoy playing with St. Vincent.

Overall, another thumbs-up performance... better than this crappy review might make it seem.

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