Last night Derek, Chad, and I attended St. Vincent's show at Ancienne Belgique, which is a medium-size venue not far from the Grande Place in Brussels. This was my first time at the venue. It was similar in many ways to the Pageant in St. Louis, namely in size and type of shows hosted there. Anyway, St. Vincent's new album was just released a few weeks ago so I was looking forward to hearing the new tracks, as well as hearing her live again. This was my third time, the first being when she opened for the Black Keys years ago, and then when she did her own tour at the Pageant in St. Louis after the St. Vincent album was released.
The most striking thing about her show is that it was just her-there were no supporting musicians. She sang and played guitar live over previously recorded backgrounds which included heavy bass lines, background vocals, and strings. On almost every song she performed she played a different guitar, and the colors of the guitars were coordinated with the overall color scheme of the show. I'm kind of obsessed with her aesthetic choices and the amount of artful planning she puts in to her live performances. It's so unique! She's doing this overtly sexy, glamorous thing with the new album, which, at first thought, seems contradictory to her musical style which can at times be considered as punk or even noise rock. However, the more I watched her at this gig the more I was enamored with the entire aesthetic. There's also the feminist perspective to consider--in other words, she's a strong, creative female playing a historically hyper-masculine instrument, while dressed in a very sexy red patent leather bikini with puffy arm attachments. If she had been performing in the 1980s, my formative years, I may have chosen to play the guitar instead of the saxophone! What a vision. I guess it takes someone like her to smash pre-conceived notions of gender norms, musical genre, and instrumental performance. All I can say is thank god for artists like her.
Back to the concert...the audience was smaller than we expected, but they were enthusiastic. It seemed to be an almost equal male to female ratio. They were all caucasian, and ranged in age from 20s to 50s. The way her performance progressed really pulled the crowd into what she was doing. She started out singing just with a microphone (no guitar) in one corner of the stage with just a tiny bit of the stage curtain pulled back, and as she went through several songs from Strange Mercy the curtain was pulled further back to reveal a mostly empty stage. The only items on the stage were various vocal microphones that she moved to after each song was over. By the second half of the show, there was a screen that played previously recorded scenes that featured her and several models. The visual evolution of the show was very effective and kept the audience entertained throughout. I know I loved it! At one point people were chuckling while watching one of the videos that featured the models in all types of compromising positions.
Attending a live show is such an adventure. You never really know what you're in for, and the end result (for me, anyway) is usually a renewed interest in not only the featured artist, but music in general. And now that I'm in the second year of the PhD in musicology, I couldn't help but think of the entire show through the ethnography lens. I kept thinking, "how great would it be to interview St. Vincent"?!