I can only assume that after my questioning of the Indie kids and their whirligigs, some poor hipster at Pitchfork suffered an inexplicable seizure. It’s ok little fella; go listen to some Tame Impala and nurse a craft beer; we will set everything right.
Good luck trying to make it as a musician. Not that it was ever easy, but the ability to sign multi-album deals and actually make money off the recorded end of the business is closed to everyone but Taylor Swift and country stars whose fans will still buy CDs at Walmart, because the pennies earned from streaming royalties will get you nowhere. At least when you had a three-album deal and some studio time and a label to back you, the possibility of growing into your sound remained an actual possibility. Now your only hope is live performance and the merch and some airplay on a television show or commercial. In the meantime you have to master social media and technology and marketing and the trolls that lose their minds when you don’t give away absolutely everything for free.
St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, has somehow managed to tame this beast and ride it to success. Her latest incarnation on Masseduction finds her revealing all without telling you anything. From the provocative backside on her album cover, which may or may not be her, to the glamour look she unveiled in the videos supporting the songs, to the disembodied legs and arms that have made up portions of her live tour, Clark embraces and then defies and then transcends the objectification of our culture.
Her appearance in Tulsa turned into quite a family affair. Teen: The Sequel (TTS) and I had failed to secure GA tickets in the standing-only area in front of the stage and had to solace ourselves with second row seats. But when we noticed an older couple kept trying to sit down only to be told they had to stand because they didn’t have reserved tickets, TTS offered a swap. Turns out the grateful pair were Clark’s cousins (St. Vincent was born in Tulsa but grew up in Dallas). They had simply shown up with their comps, not understanding the seating arrangements. After the happy switch, I looked, and sure enough _______ Clark was printed on each ticket. We headed to the edge of the stage and Clark’s kin took a load off.
When the curtains unfurled for the opening act, we were greeted by Clark’s legendary uncle and aunt, the jazz duo Tuck and Patti. Tuck looked like he just adjourned from a meeting of the elves in Middle-earth, with long curly white hair and a suit to match, producing otherworldly sounds from his Gibson. Patti’s marvelous voice wills you to join her infectious, joyous, state of mind. Tuck mentioned he hadn’t played in Tulsa since sitting in with the Gap Band years ago.
If you dare go Hendrix in your set, the only thing anyone will remember is that you went Hendrix in your set. And those memories will either hail you as a god or a complete idiot for believing you could tackle Jimi. Tuck and Patti opted for god status with a medley of Castles Made of Sand/Little Wing. Tuck does things on the neck of the guitar, with both hands, that create the impression several guitars are being played at once. Patti understands that when you sing Hendrix you dispense with the fireworks and leave the audience craving more, a craving the listener knows could be satisfied but won’t, quite likely because he isn’t capable of breathing the air at those altitudes.
This tour has seen Clark offer different theatrical versions of her music. On one leg she screened the horror movie she directed for the anthology, XX. These dates featured Tuck and Patti with Clark then appearing far stage right and working her way across the crowd as she performed her past hits. Choosing to perform solo on this part of the tour, I feared the show would turn into a karaoke performance. But the genius of this approach became apparent as it appeared every sound emanated from Clark’s voice or guitar.
That guitar. St. Vincent shreds like no one else in Indie. She invites all comers and will bury you. Her effects set-up is so complex that when you listen to her recorded, you often don’t realize that she’s creating the hooks from her guitar and not a synth or looping machine. She plays with a ferocity that echoes Prince and then Dinosaur Jr. and then Zeppelin.
But like all things, that ferocity stops just short of complete abandonment. Clark carefully choreographs every moment of her performance; after a brief intermission, she returned to play Masseduction in its entirety with video sequences playing behind her. The images brilliantly mirrored the songs’ musings on celebrity and fame and the obsession to be looked at every moment of every day while consuming everyone and everything else in your gaze. In “Los Ageless” she sings, “In Los Ageless the mothers milk their young,” and “I try to write you a love song but it comes out a lament.” And in the title track, “Masseduction/I hold you like a weapon/Mass destruction/I don’t turn off what turns me on.”
TTS perceptively noted that St. Vincent creates a beautiful shell that never lets you in completely. He wished she would break through that barrier. But I think Clark has realized she must exercise that level of control to continue making art in this moment. The parasitic forces of social media and digital hysteria look for any breach to extract every drop of your creativity and leave you nothing but a husk. St. Vincent offers her brilliance at a remove, because she knows otherwise there will be no brilliance, or herself, left to offer.