By Alex Cullina, Staff Writer
St. Vincent played to a sold-out crowd at Kings Theatre in Flatbush on December 2. The show, the first of two New York performances, was a part of the “Fear the Future” tour promoting her new album, “Masseduction.”
Born Annie Clark, the singer and guitarist has been called “the female David Bowie” for her genre-bending stage presence and innovative arrangements and guitar style. Across four solo albums, a collaboration with The Talking Heads’ David Byrne, and a Grammy, St. Vincent has established herself as being at the forefront of today’s sound and probably tomorrow’s too.
Opening with the tender “Marry Me” off her 2007 album of the same name, she stood at far stage left, the curtain pulled back just far enough for her to step forward. For the first half of the show she performed songs from her previous solo albums, including a frantic, up-tempo version of “Rattlesnake” off of her eponymous 2013 album and a frenetic “Actor Out of Work” off of 2009’s Actor. With each song she migrated across the stage and the curtains receded by increments, revealing a gaudy, garish backdrop of a stylized face with its fanged mouth open in a screech.
Alone on stage except for the occasional appearance by a trio of assistants, St. Vincent, wearing a fuchsia leotard and matching thigh-high heels, with her black bob gelled back, commanded the audience’s attention. The lighting effects, heavy on strobes and precisely timed to the music, amped up the crowd’s energy, and by the fourth song everyone was on their feet.
After a brief intermission and costume and set change, she returned to perform “Masseduction” from start to finish. The backdrop replaced by an enormous screen, and now in a silver miniskirt and standing on a small raised platform at center stage, St. Vincent tore through each song with her signature mannered precision. Barely moving from the mic except for the occasional tiny high-heeled skitter, she still somehow managed to fill the stage.
With her new album, St. Vincent, known for her incisive and nasty commentary on modern life set to a fierce and grungy guitar, finds herself moving in new sonic directions while still doing what she does best. She dedicated the sweetly sentimental ballad “New York” to the city, her adopted hometown. The heartache at the center of “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” a song addressing a down-and-out ex-lover, was rendered painfully crystalline. But her trademark fuzzy, distorted guitar was still very much at play, from the driving, dread-filled “Los Ageless” to the insistent panic of “Young Lover.”
Unfortunately, even the most energetic of St. Vincent’s new songs generally lack the drive and danceability of her older work. Her lack of faith in herself to keep the audience entertained let the air out of the show’s second half. Throughout her performance of the new album, the screen behind her displayed in quick, jagged bursts, clips from her recent music videos and promotional materials, as well as new footage. The imagery, carefully curated, polished and rendered in bright colors against monochromatic backdrops, was striking, but in the end only served to distract from the performer herself.
The show, like the album, closed with the mournful, expansive “Smoking Section,” a melancholy meditation punctuated at points by St. Vincent’s ferocious guitar. As the song comes to a close, she muses, repeatedly, “it’s not the end.” But of course nothing lasts forever. As the song faded, the screen proclaimed it: “The End.”