Musical Musings: St. Vincent at the Wex

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

It's easy to imagine Annie Clark as a child dreaming up elaborate make-believe worlds during playtime, listening attentively to her parents' old records and using precociously big words at the dinner table. She has a seemingly boundless creativity, an eccentric, electric muse that was joyfully on display last night at the Wexner Center Black Box.

Last week I noted that Vampire Weekend's show on the same stage was impressive for its taut simplicity—it didn't blow my mind, but it made me happy. St. Vincent, Clark's band, provided another, deeper sort of satisfaction. This was a tour de force from one of music's unique, underappreciated talents.

I can imagine somebody writing off Clark's music (or her coy, fanboy-baiting audience flirtation) as too cute, but no one could have seen last night's show and denied just how much creative juice she has flowing. Luckily for the few in attendance, she pulled no punches, recreating the arrangements from her impressive debut Marry Me and pushing them to even greater frenzied heights.

Clark's music bridges gaps between insane and serene, between smooth lounge music and prickly orchestral avant-garde. It is rock music, but it rarely rolls, instead skipping or sashaying between the real world and Clark's dreams, like her own little Persepolis in live action and full color.

Last night she and her skilled three-man band used bells, samples, clarinet, processed violin and the full litany of standard rock tools to recreate and expand on the album's sonic world. When they weren't pushing "Now, Now" and "Jesus Saves, I Spend" to intensely noisy climaxes, they were lending grace to the subtly gorgeous piano ballad "Marry Me" or delving into pleasant interludes. Instruments popped in and out of the mix, sometimes smoothly and sometimes jarringly. It all seemed calculated, but not coldly.

The players were master sidemen, fully employing their considerable talent but never upstaging the star. Then again, it would be hard to outshine someone as charismatic as Clark; her six-string mastery stood out above all else. The snaking, fuzzed-out guitar line is the best touch in "Jesus Saves, I Spend," a song with plenty of sonic delights. And she really got to show off her ax-master status on a solo cover of the Beatles' "Dig a Pony," a blur of bluesy crunch and wail.

Meanwhile, she exuded sass and preciousness whether using her sweet but sultry voice for song or addressing the crowd with wide eyes and a sneaky grin. She knocked both Jesus and the Beatles (well, OK, just Let It Be) but acknowledged she's smaller than both. And she seemed genuinely appreciative toward a relatively small crowd.

After an appropriately cacophonous "Your Lips are Red," the band called it a night, then Clark emerged once more to end the evening on a quiet note. Her spare, faithful rendition of Nico's "These Days" stood in stark contrast to the bombast of musical ideas St. Vincent tossed around like so much confetti. It was a perfect palette cleanser, and it proved that Clark's talents shine brightly whether running wild in her own creativity or fitting comfortably into someone else's beautiful mold.