Listening back to St Vincent’s discography before the gig, I hadn’t previously realised how instrumental she has been in forming my perception of music. At first listen, songs from Strange Mercy are abrasive, difficult, and the dissonance doesn’t quite connect. In fact, they show how unafraid of experimentation St Vincent – the stage name of Annie Clark – is, something that she’s continued to demonstrate throughout the trajectory of her career.
This was evident in the way that Clark appeared on-stage. She emerged dominatrix-like in a nude latex dress and long neon orange boots to match her guitar, completely mastering the stage. With a live band and a flashing wall of lights, Clark perfectly mixed rock and electronic; ‘Sugarboy’ started off with an indiscernible and powerful synth intro, and segued into the fabulous rock song that it is.
Clark held her own entirely throughout the night. Completely owning her sexuality, she defined how she was going to be seen. In her fearlessness, the crowd was entirely at her command. She had them practically on their knees as she wailed the extended “please” in the chorus of ‘Saviour’. ‘Masseduction’ was sexy and unashamed. Clark performed the song as if she was admitting a kink to a lover, asking them to do something out of the ordinary for her. In an instant, she used all the internalised misogyny in the world and directed it back in on itself, refusing to be confined by any sort of definition of what a woman ought to be like. In that instant, men wanted to be her and women wanted to be with her.
Quite apart from her own undeniable magnetism, Clark was gifted at reaching out to the audience throughout the night, bringing them in and taking them by the hand. “I am a lot like you,” she proclaims on ‘Sugarboy’, and she makes you feel just that. At one point Clark proclaims, “For an hour and a half, we get to be safe; no matter what sort of fucked up shit is going on in the world, there’s always a reason to dance,” before throwing herself into ‘Digital Witness’. Towards the end of the night, she seemed completely astounded that the crowd knew all the words to ‘New York’, and exclaimed, “we just had a kumbaya moment!” As Clark sang ‘Fast Slow Disco’, it felt like she could be a Robyn-like figure: that pop star for the ages.
St Vincent showed me that rock music can be light-hearted. She showed me that rock music can be female. And she showed me that female rock musicians do not have to compromise for anyone. She demonstrated this in force throughout the evening.
Image: Sonja Horsman for The Observer