There is a certain mythology about ‘rock stars’.
“As a rock star, I have two instincts,” U2’s Bono said. “I want to have fun, and I want to change the world. I have a chance to do both.”
I’ve seen several dozens of concerts, and only had one experience where I felt like I was witnessing something truly on a different level. Standing within ten rows of Jack White’s headlining Saturday Forecastle set last summer moved me in a way I never had been, and hadn’t yet imagined. He was the only one that ever affected me in that way.
Until last night at Louisville’s Brown Theatre, as St. Vincent provided the venue’s eulogy as it was burned to the ground.
There have been incredible shows in my past, but only these two have combined all of the talents and sensibilities together at once. I discovered Jack White as a modern rock star last summer, but Thursday night, St. Vincent put her thunderous, smokey persona on full display.
In the Brown Theatre, people were dressed nicely. They sat calmly in their seats waiting. When St. Vincent arrived, it felt almost as if the crowd was too polite. Everyone stood, but a stiffness remained through the earliest songs. Being the great performer that she is, Annie Clark coped this perfectly.
The choreography was the best of any show I have ever seen. Clark danced while ripping through guitar riffs in robot-like fashion in sync with other performers on stage to create a visually stunning performance. The guitarists would change directions simultaneously with notes in the song, and they would often limp over, powering down like actual robots at the end. Strobe lights illuminated the jerky movements in a way that was so strange and exciting. At times, watching St. Vincent perform is like being inside a music video come to life. It’s a coordinated practice – but it is not lifeless. It’s done in such a way that it builds energy in the room and breathes physical life into visuals you may only expect to see in a YouTube video.
St. Vincent is no one trick pony though, mind you. As Clark tightened her grip on the audience, they loosened their nerves. Once the crowd was appropriately wild, Clark let her mind scrambling guitar playing loose. Song after song had extended, unique solos. These were not your typical blues licks. Clark is one of the best modern guitarists and her playing reflects the one of a kind personality she shares on stage.
That personality really shined through at times. During a handful of pauses between songs, Clark would connect with the audience, explaining the suggested similarities she shared with everyone in the building. My personal favorite was a story about entering a downtown boutique, and stealing a pair of Tupac socks “despite the fact they were only $6.99,” and being caught by a store owner. But the owner decides, “No. You keep those. You’ve earned them.” And with that kind of note, Clark would launch into her guitar playing through the next song. These stories are told with such whimsy that they’re undeniably fun.
Her rock star persona shined through the night. Sometimes Clark would opt to only sing a song, and she would flail in all directions and drop to the floor singing on her back. It’s such an electric thing to see. She’s happy to please the most excited fans as well. At one point she slyly stole a front row member’s glasses right off his face just before propelling into a solo wearing them herself. To understand how quickly these fiery moments erupt, consider the fact that the glasses flew off Clark’s face mid-solo yet she still managed to throw them back at the guy while playing.
St. Vincent’s largest rock star moment came in the final act, an encore performance of ‘Your Lips Are Red’. The lights turned to a dark blue behind Clark as a green light rested solely on her, making her appear like a witch. The metal barn burner really may have been witchcraft, inching along slowly through its beginning verses toward its thundering solos like a flame burning down a cable to meet the dynamite. The most jaw dropping song of the night found Clark entering the crowd with her guitar while soloing and walking straight out the theatre, only to come in through another entrance (still playing). She wasn’t finished yet. Fans ran behind her screaming and yelling, applauding everything about what they were witnessing. Clark made it back on stage to shift into the cleaner sounding finish to the song, yet kept the mood just as electrifying.
There’s no such thing as a rock star if St. Vincent isn’t one. Most people have a handful of the qualities you need, and sometimes the sum of those parts add up to an incredible experience. But someone is actually transcendent in live music when they combine unmatched talent, charisma and spectacle all together for an unforgettable experience. And I can guarantee you, no one in Brown Theatre Thursday night will be forgetting what they saw.