PHILADELPHIA -- Typically, when an artist tours in support of a universally acclaimed new album, where the roadshow itself is named for and visually styled to match the project, those fresh tunes come early and often in the set.
The new record's first track opens the concert, acquainting fans with the latest additions to the catalog and the show rolls on from there. Many of the largest album-focuses tours this year -- Lady Gaga, Metallica, Kendrick Lamar, Arcade Fire, the list goes on -- all commenced their performances in such a way.
Indie darling St. Vincent was in no such hurry Tuesday night in Philadelphia; her new toys could and would wait, regardless of the fanfare surrounding October's "MASSEDUCTION," the sultry, delightfully pop-savvy followup to her self-titled breakthrough -- you may recall "St. Vincent" earned the artist born Annie Clark a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 2015.
Before a packed house at the Electric Factory, Clark instead took it from the top: two songs from her wispy 2007 debut "Marry Me" began the show as she stood alone under a spotlight, far left on the otherwise curtain-shrouded stage. She wore a plastic-y, hot-pink leotard and matching thigh-highs as she strummed her custom Ernie Ball Music Man guitar and sang. Her calling-card voluminous, curly locks were chopped to chin length, dyed jet-black and straightened, adding to her rather glossy, robotic presence.
Next came two songs from her second album "Actor," for which the curtain was pulled back a bit farther. Then three songs from her third record "Strange Mercy," including early fan favorites "Cruel" and "Cheerleader." Strobe lights flickered intensely, either illuminating Clark in blinding fashion or casting her in total darkness. Again, the curtain opened some more.
At this point the analogy was fairly clear: the further the New York singer (by way of Oklahoma and Texas) peeled back her career -- playing her hits in chronological order -- so too would her staging slowly be revealed.
Finally, she was on to 2014's "St. Vincent" album and her most popular tune, the funky, flittering single "Digital Witness," to which fans bopped and sang as the curtain fully unfurled, unveiling a melty, fanged woman's face painted onto a second hanging curtain behind Clark.
In less than 40 minutes, and with succinct method, the 35-year-old singer had summarized her career before her new record "MASSEDUCTION" as exactly that: a "before," the first act in the ongoing one-woman show that is St. Vincent's precious existence.
The success of "St. Vincent" had introduced Clark to real fame, to playing the main stage at Coachella, to appearing in tabloids for her romantic relationship with actress/model Cara Delevingne. "MASSEDUCTION" would begin Act II.
The curtain closed Tuesday after those first 40 minutes and reopened a few minutes later. It was still only Clark, now on a small rise at centerstage, changed into a metallic cocktail dress. A large, high-def screen had replaced the fanged female.
From here, Clark gave "MASSEDUCATION," which was produced by now-coveted New Jersey producer Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde), its due; she passionately rocked the pulsating, dramatic dive into the power of sex and consumerism in its entirety and in sequence.
The title track's smoking, Madonna-nodding hook "Mass seduction / I can't turn off what turns me on" is lodged deep in my brain a day later, as is the terrific, winking single "Los Ageless" and its brash guitar melody. The shier, more personal ballads "Happy Birthday, Johnny" and "New York" were haunting and welcome departures from the pounding bass that commandeered many "MASS" songs.
For an artist lauded for her shrewd sonic swerves, the linearity of this performance was almost disappointing, if not for the fact that Clark knew exactly how it looked and desired to play the cold, organizational aesthetic against her warbling, rich vocal and hypnotic guitar tones. She would be the only human in this inhuman setting, where there was no backing band to be found. Avant garde videos of Clark smashing a cake shaped like a telephone and later, a woman's legs jutting out from an old television set were the primary visuals beyond Clark's dramatic, head-banging performance. She's been called "the female David Bowie" before and its a fair, if not overly flattering comparison.
"MASSEDUCTION" will go down in the St. Vincent annals as a prime-years triumph and while perhaps too minimalist at times, her stage show did fine to support the new, explosive project.
St. Vincent's set list
Nov. 28, 2017 -- The Electric Factory, Philadelphia
- Part 1:
- "Marry Me"
- "Now, Now"
- "The Strangers"
- "Actor Out of Work"
- "Strange Mercy"
- "Digital Witness"
- "Birth in Reverse"
- Part 2 ('MASSEDUCTION'):
- "Hang on Me"
- "Los Ageless"
- "Happy Birthday, Johnny"
- "New York"
- "Fear the Future"
- "Young Lover"
- "Dancing With a Ghost"
- "Slow Disco"
- "Smoking Section"
Bobby Olivier may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyOlivier. Find NJ.com on Facebook....Read more