By IAN HRABE
It's baffling how good Annie Clark, also known as indie artist St. Vincent, is at putting songs together. And just as baffling was the sold out crowd at the Bottleneck on Monday night. Apparently sometime between her 2009 sophomore LP Actor and last night, Clark has become quite popular. No, her songs aren't usurping Taylor Swift's deathgrip on 105.9 the Lazer; and no, you haven't heard any of her tunes on MTV's "Jersey Shore." But despite her lack of obvious exposure, everyone in the audience seemed to be emotionally involved in Clark's complex compositions, soulful vocals and wry lyricisms. Of course, there was that one asshole directly behind me chattering during the quiet parts (see: Clark's gorgeous rendition of Jackson Browne's "These Days"), but that's much better than four or five assholes chattering during the quiet parts, which seems to be the usual at Lawrence shows. Maybe it's just that Clark has the kind of talent that makes everyone just shut the fuck up and listen.
Swedish husband-and-wife duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums opened with a set consisting of nothing but voice and percussion. Singer Mariam Wallentin does a remarkable job at making her voice the prime melodic instrument. On stage, in front of her steel drum, she was like a Swedish gospel singer (that is, assuming Sweden has gospel music). The bulk of the drums, played by Andreas Werliin, provided a jazzy backdrop for Wallentin's soulful vocals.Though "percussive" and "melodic" are two words that don't often appear in the same sentence, Wildbirds & Peacedrums managed to pull off the stark combination well.
Everything about St. Vincent's performance can be summed up by Annie Clark returning to stage solo for the first song of the encore and busting out a grungy, flat-out awesome cover of the Beatles' "Dig a Pony." It was this song that proved that Annie Clark not only has the chops to bust out sweet guitar solos with a sound tonally similar to Jimi Hendrix, but that her music has a lasting, classic quality to it.
Most of Annie Clark's set consisted of spot on renditions of tunes culled from Actor. A drummer, a bassist, a violinist, a flutist/clarinetist/saxophonist, and Clark on guitar brought all of Clark's sweeping arrangements to life and managed to make them even more engaging than their recorded counterparts. Apparently, you can make a flute and a violin sound like a whole goddamned orchestra, which I did not know until that evening.
While I feared someone as talented as Clark might come off as a bit of a snob, she approached the audience with warmth and humor. Stories of visiting her sorority girl sister as a sixteen year-old cast her as an utterly unpretentious sweetheart. But just as easily as she exuded girlish charm, Clark could be found somewhere on the stage floor busting out a Sonic Youth-esque noise freakout (like in her set's epic finale, "Your Lips are Red"). There was a
dream-like quality to the whole show, partially due to the technicolor lighting but mostly due to the whimsical, film score-esque nature of Clark's songs. I was torn. Half of me wondered at how five people were making such lush, bedazzling sounds; and my other half soaked in the sheer sonic bliss emanating from the stage.