[This is an unpublished show review from back in October, when I saw St. Vincent at Old Rock House]
Last week, my attention was directed to a tragi-comic essay on the impossible nature of happiness, how the emotion everyone seems to be striving for is actually unsustainable and ephemeral, a nebulous marketing scam started relatively recently in human history to manipulate people into adhering to social codes established by The Man. The main takeaway is, whatever event or item you think will surely secure your happiness forever will never maintain or even achieve the level of happiness that you felt in the time leading up to that moment. The anticipation is the good stuff, everything else is a let down.
Not ideal thoughts to have while leaning against my car, looking at the queue of excited fans alongside The Old Rock House. I’d watched at least two total strangers, teenagers, losing their minds on Tumblr for weeks, kids driving from Arkansas and Indiana just to see this concert. Could Annie Clark possibly provide an experience to rival the time spent almost tasting how blown away we’d be?
But that’s the thing about St. Vincent, you know. She’s clever, wry even. She is the best super hero facade for human weakness: Wise, ambiguous lyrics and dazzling guitar to distract from the uncertainty, nervousness, and powerlessness that fill the time not spent on stage. The new album, Strange Mercy, demands and establishes a stable balance between nightmare spazz and the discomfort of uptight control.
I have a special place in my heart for artists whose music is their solace and their torment. Last night, Annie Clark pulled a sold-out crowd into her head. She showed us what it’s like to face down a panic attack with your wits still about you. The strobe lights and spots disoriented, the bass was shockingly loud, the vaulted ceiling threatened to crash down upon us, but the music bound us together, even when the noise and feedback seemed to careen into infinity with no way back. The electronic drums beat out of time, but the math still held, and order never really left the universe.
The confidence of the new album made songs from the older albums seem dark and doomed by comparison, especially “Actor Out of Work,” the only St. Vincent song I’ve ever heard on commercial radio. With slight changes in arrangement, the addition of two synths, the absence of the layered backing vocals, it was a whole new song, and scarier.
At the end of the encore, as the last strains of “Your Lips Are Red” (a personal favorite) faded away, it was clear that Annie Clark has a solid grip on her ghosts. Driving home from the show, the windows down, it’s unseasonably warm for October and I’ve got the radio tuned to the local oldies station. Elton John sings, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”
It’s four o’clock in the morning
Damnit, listen to me good I’m sleeping with myself tonight Saved in time, thank God my music’s still alive.
And I am satisfied.
Setlist: Cruel Cheerleader Surgeon Hysterical Strength Chloe in the Afternoon Actor Out of Work Dilettante Just the Same but Brand New Champagne Year Neutered Fruit Strange Mercy She is Beyond Good and Evil (The Pop Group cover) Northern Lights Year of the Tiger Marrow
Encore The Party Your Lips Are Red
Notebook: I follow a bunch of teenage fangirls on Tumblr, because that’s their natural habitat and because it’s fun. The one who lives in Arkansas and drove to STL the day of the show and returned the same night because she had class the next morning reports back that she got an autograph, a hug, and her picture taken with Annie Clark, and Annie brought out a beer for everyone who waited.
My 21 favorite records of 2011 + Mixtape of the Year
Hi. Free Agent, here. I do what I want. This is not a list of the ten best records of the year. Last year, I wrote a sprawling, weird list of ten records with a rambling blurb for each. This year, a lot of shit went down and I don’t have time for that. This is a list of 21 records I burned to CDs and only listened to in the car because the scrobbling was starting to get embarrassing. It’s a list of 21 records that got me through the hardest year of my adult life. It’s a list of 21 records that have pulses and profiles, records whose fingers left prints on my heart. These 21 records paint a pretty decent portrait of who I was this year, and, it turns out, who I was, was very, very lucky. If you want me to talk up any one of these records further, get me started. I dare ya.
Western Teleport, Emperor X
Strange Mercy, St. Vincent
Transparency, Chris Weisman
Past Life Martyred Saints, EMA
undun, the Roots
Parallax, Atlas Sound
Into the Dark Unknown, Holcombe Waller
Killing the Darlings, Pearl and the Beard
All Things Will Unwind, My Brightest Diamond
Nine, Jes Kramer
Philharmonics, Agnes Obel
Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, M83
Cherish the Light Years, Cold Cave
When You Left the Fire, The Wilderness of Manitoba
Gold in the Shadow, William Fitzsimmons
Coastal Grooves, Blood Orange
tamer animals, Other Lives
American Songbird, Scarlet Tanager
England Keep My Bones, Frank Turner
(Also, four more almost-made-its [this year was just stupid with good records] Burst Apart, The Antlers, 100 Lovers, Devotchka, Zonoscope, Cut Copy, and Bon Iver, Bon Iver).
Additionally, here are my favorite EP releases of 2011:
A New Kind of House, Typhoon Room for Dream, Kishi Bashi Builded, Ou Où Like Strangers, Old Lights The Farmer John EP, Last to Show, First to Go
And my most anticipated shows/music coming in 2012:
Put Your Back N2 It
New records from Rufus Wainwright, Fiona Apple, and D’Angelo (MAJOR)
Break it Yourself, Andrew Bird (due out March 6th, show in St. Louis on March 22nd)
Kishi Bashi’s first full length (funded through Bandcamp, & a show in St. Louis on January 14th!)
M83 at The gotdamned Pageant (THANK YOU, FIREBIRD!)
Bear in Heaven at The Luminary (An unreal chance to redeem myself after whiffing on it in 2010)
And last but not proper least, the debut LP from Water Liars, Justin Kinkel-Schuster (front man of the late alt folk band Theodore)’s new project with Andrew Bryant. I saw their live debut at the Billiken Club a few months ago and this record has national breakout stamped all over it. Justin takes everything that was passionate and borderline unhinged from Theodore and distills it into a shot of adrenaline and smoky, booze-steeped blues. It’s fucking great, you guys.
I didn’t think it was possible to top the shows and tunes from 2011, but St. Louis is always full of spectacular surprises. Happy New Year, Nerds!! The world is full of music. Go love something so much you can’t shut about it! ——————————————————————————————————————-
All but Jes Kramer’s and BOBBY’s records are on Spotify, so here’s my playlist of selected tracks from each album: