St. Vincent Brings New York To Atlanta At Shaky Knees
Since her 2014 self-titled, every new St. Vincent album has come with the introduction of a new persona — the silver-haired “near-future cult leader” of St. Vincent, the leather-clad “dominatrix at the mental institution” of MASSEDUCTION, the sleazy-yet-glamorous blonde-wigged scenester of Daddy’s Home — and with each new persona has come a new live show. To many fans and critics, her recent album Daddy’s Home was a bit of a misfire, a too-mannered facsimile of the spontaneity of classic funk and soul grafted onto songs that sometimes weren’t quite there. Annie Clark is a consummate performer — for better or for worse, she commits to the bit — so if you’re not willing to entertain the notion of her latest reinvention, the Daddy’s Home tour likely won’t convert you. But if you can indulge her and buy into her Candy Darling cosplay, even just a little bit, there’s plenty of fun to be had in seeing her theatrical vision of 1970s New York come to life onstage.
St. Vincent closed out her American tour in support of Daddy’s Home with a performance at Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta yesterday. Although she wasn’t headlining — that honor went to the Foo Fighters, subbing in for a COVID-cautious Stevie Nicks — her set was the first of the day to truly feel like a capital-E event, the field at the foot of the festival’s main Peachtree Stage completely filled with warm bodies for the first time. And from the second that Shep & The Limeliters’ doo-wop classic “Daddy’s Home” started blasting onto the empty stage and her band, including a trio of backup singers, filed out, it was clear that we were in St. Vincent’s world, with every single move carefully thought-out and choreographed.
After a brief audience fakeout featuring an impostor in a similar blonde wig, Annie Clark took the stage, standing in front of a backdrop of a Manhattan cityscape while her band played a squelchy, electric piano-streaked funk groove that gradually coalesced into the familiar riff of “Digital Witness.” As always, one of the pleasures of seeing St. Vincent live is hearing her older material reinterpreted in her latest style, and the Daddy’s Home-ified “Digital Witness” led seamlessly into “Down” — the clear standout of Daddy’s Home — followed by a transcendently noisy rendition of “Birth In Reverse.”
Clark herself seems to realize that Daddy’s Home isn’t her strongest material, as the 12-song, hour-long set featured only four tracks from her newest album, including the title track and the “Fame“-esque “Pay Your Way In Pain.” While they uniformly sounded sharper and punchier than on-record, bolstered by her ace live band (and the tactile immediacy of her rhythm section in particular), they still felt largely like interruptions from the songs everyone actually came to see. Meanwhile, “Los Ageless,” sounding grittier and less plasticine with its new arrangement, was just as good as it ever was, and the uptempo “Fast” version of MASSEDUCTION‘s “Slow Disco” and “Fear The Future” were also highlights.
Admittedly, there were some moments of the show that didn’t quite land. While the tender piano ballad “New York” is probably one of St. Vincent’s most recognizable songs at this point, her attempt to turn it into a clap-along anthem seemed misguided. Even more awkward was a mid-set skit in which Annie Clark pretended to take a phone call from a friend having a bad trip. “The thing is, I said micro-dose, not macro-dose,” she joked, before leading into the real point of the whole setup: “The only thing you think could calm you down from this glowing abyss would be to hear the crowd scream?” While the audience was more than happy to oblige, the bit felt too cute and clever by half and killed some of the momentum of the performance.
St. Vincent closed out the show with “The Melting Of The Sun,” a somewhat anticlimactic ending following the earlier peaks in the set. Still, it’s hard to be too disappointed when you get to watch one of indie rock’s greatest live performers do her thing. Where the Fear The Future tour in support of MASSEDUCTION occasionally felt more like a performance art piece than a concert, with its heavy filmed video components and Clark singing along to backing tracks, part of the thrill of the Daddy’s Home experience is Clark’s renewed commitment to putting on a real rock ‘n’ roll show. When she chooses to, she can more than capably play the part of ’70s rock star. Who knows what she might want to be next?
“Birth In Reverse”
“Fast Slow Disco”
“Pay Your Way In Pain”
“Fear The Future”
“Your Lips Are Red”
“The Melting Of The Sun”