Two live acts and one short film prequel directed by the artist herself – titled ‘The Birthday Party, or, ‘The Memory Lucy Suppressed From Her Seventh Birthday That Wasn’t Really Her Mom’s Fault (Even Though Her Therapist Says It’s Probably Why She Fears Intimacy)’ when viewed in its entirety, the show is a cataclysmic commentary bound by one central focus– power.
Power in all its forms: sexual, financial, gender and the underlying subtextual layered messages that 35 year old Annie Clark’s alter ego St Vincent is determined to highlight tonight. A show designed to challenge the ‘feminine mystique’ and prompt Sydney’s Carriageworks crowd to ponder whether we need to ‘fear the future’ in her aptly named artistic solo performance. Thanks to her measured grit, capabilities on electric guitar combined with lyrical shock and lure all massaged into one lithe ‘cabaret to coquette’ peep show, the genre-bending chameleon St Vincent illustrates with precision why her five album touring career continues to delight and endures.
Act 1: Satiates as a nostalgia-weaving journey through Clarke’s formative albums. She appears on stage in front of a styled curtain, much like those you see in burlesque nightclubs with microphone in hand, spotlight low-lit on her scantily clad body. We hear 2008’s ‘Marry Me’, showcasing her jazz influences, a stripped back vocal offering that beguiles and bewitches. From here she slyly struts towards centre stage sliding seductively into 2009’s ‘The Strangers’ and by the time she’s centre stage, we’ve all managed a glimpse of her dominatrix get-up: thigh high boots, hot pink/red leotard adorning her svelte figure complete with fluffy neck and arm cuffs. A backdrop soon falls to reveal a little girl’s face with mouth ajar and fangs for teeth, somewhat fantastical Clarke stands positioned directly in the mouth and the tempo to the show is beginning to gather pace with 2011’s ‘Cruel’ paving the way for Clarke’s acerbic tongue to sharpen. The finale to this act draws to a close as Clarke announces she “wants to go faster” signalling a metaphoric engine revving when ‘Birth in Reverse’ gets underway a frenetic and energised track from 2014’s album titled: St Vincent.
Act 2: The Masseducation portion of the show. The current album in rotation and what a gear shift. Clarke returns to the centre of the stage wearing this time a metallic, strapless micro-mini and possibly a blue casing supporting her electric 80s angular guitar (she’s been switching up the colour of the guitar casings all evening in various shades of electric neon colours.) The all too recognisable harmonies of album opener ‘Hang on Me’, make way for track after track performed in succession from the 2017 dynamo album, but it’s the provocative and provocateur imagery that captivates, think strip-tease, stilettos, split screen suggestive sexual nuanced scenes alongside the gutsy guitar solos like those heard through ‘Sugar boy’ and ‘Fear the Future’ which leave the crowd gob-smacked at the assault on their aural and visual senses.
Perhaps the most endearing side to Clarke tonight is imparted through her own personal seduction of the crowd, from a personal connection point of view. Sharing that there is “no place she’d rather be than with you fuckers tonight” and ad-libbing lyrics fitting for nearby King Street in Newtown to start the ‘vocal-ese’ version of ‘New York’. The more fragile moments of the performance ‘Happy Birthday Johnny’ still allow for the raw and visceral undercurrent of a past lived with some regret and longing as well enable an ongoing thread of celebratory femininity which began with the female filmmaker hours before and continues with a tip of her hat to the artistic accoutrement of New York based neo-conceptual artist: Jenny Holzer who is renowned for her artful depiction of stark phrases. Not unlike the one emblazoned behind Clarke at the close of that song: ‘of course I blame me’ for their ability to shine light deftly and comment socially on the darker reaches of the human psyche – something Clarke’s ‘Fear the Future’ show has done in spades tonight.
Photo credit Daniel Boud