St Vincent - Live At Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

What a wonderful machine…

Okay, let’s just start off with the obvious, the elephant in the room, the thing everyone is thinking when Annie Clark aka St Vincent steps on stage at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. This is one hot lady: the look, the energy, her poised elegance and femininity closely matched by pure sex appeal and talent.

When she steps on that stage, all legs, spiked heels and silver hair, everyone is in awe. With an air of coolness, she scraps a sweet hello and goes straight into a full dance routine before jumping into ‘Rattlesnake’, the opening track of her new, eponymous record (review).

Donning her guitar halfway through, Annie, with what looks like entrails covering her front, is transformed into St Vincent, rocking out to massive noise while her small frame is battered by strobe lights. It’s beyond hot. It’s exciting, tantalising, cool, sexy and loud. It ends in a mass of fuzz dropping into deadly silence before the crowd explodes. That’s how you open a show.

“Hello ladies and gentleman, I feel like I already know you,” she says, teasing us with her android-like calmness contrasting the filthy sound she just captured us with. She keeps this replicant-like persona throughout the night, telling us stories about how we’re all the same, we had the nickname Peaches and how we all made hot air balloons when we were little, like some kind of self-help audio book. She is a wonderful machine.

The night just gets better, with every track from ‘St Vincent’ sounding punchy and dramatic, rocky and poppy, and her older songs are given new leases of life with the slightly more raucous version of the artist who stands before us. Everyone is in love.

Annie is no more in her element than when immersed in the cacophony – powerful, distorted, played with effortless chic. She saves the wall of electric guitar buzz for the second half of the show, building up her adoring crowd into a frenzy. ‘Cheerleader’, from 2011’s ‘Strange Mercy’, is like a psychedelic Bond theme, while ‘Huey Newton’ is pure guitar raunchiness, and one of the highlights of the night.

It’s not all about the racket, through. ‘Digital Witness’ is synth-pop and ‘Birth In Reverse’ gives us vintage guitar tones over almost-industrial noise. ‘Every Tear Disappears’ conjures up the spirit of Kurt Cobain while it’s more ‘70s-rock-meets-PJ-Harvey for ‘Year Of The Tiger’. Every jaw drops for beautiful renditions of ‘I Prefer Your Love’ and ‘Prince Johnny’, both deep and heartfelt, big but subtle, sung by a Hollywood starlet version of Annie on top of a podium, her Marilyn Monroe-like silhouette projected on the background.

The best moment of the night has to be ‘Black Rainbow’, full of reverb and smashing together vibes of prog and The Beatles’ ‘I Want You’ – it’s a number to become lost in – and the simply amazing ‘Bring Me Your Loves’ comes over loud and weird, but utterly mesmerising.

The fuzz continues for the closing tracks, where Annie almost gets pulled into the crowd while teasing a few fans with her guitar (everyone wants a piece of it) and the wonderfully mental ‘Krokodil’. She brings us down with an encore of a stripped-back ‘The Bed’ and ‘Your Lips Are Red’, both performed with a threatening menace, her face bathed in green and blue light like a beautiful witch. We’ll be under her spell forever.

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Words: Gemma Hampson
Photos: Rachel Lipsitz (website)

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