Live Review: St. Vincent at New York’s Terminal 5 (2/26)

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Annie Clark celebrates her new Top Rated album with a sold out hometown gig.

Photos: Wei Shi

A St. Vincent concert is a great leveler—it reduces all of us, even Annie Clark—to mere specks in the universe that the music of St. Vincent has created. Giants like David Byrne appear alongside unemployed Brooklyners and haughty Manhattan socialites, all eager to bask in her enormous glow. The packed VIP section in New York’s shoddiest large crowd venue Terminal 5 can attest to this: We are all moths flitting toward the great white light of Annie Clark.

When the spotlight hit Clark, she belt out opener “Rattlesnake” with a sly grin, her spiny shadow looming nearby in the corner. She arrived in all reds and blacks, an almost cabaret outfit that flirted with the conservative side of sexy with stark lines. The crowd roared and hissed as they recognized her latest single, their vocals filling the cavernous warehouse of the venue with uncanny volume. Miraculously, most everyone honored the robotic plea issued just prior to the music: “Please refrain from digitally capturing your experience.” This made her message on follow-up song “Digital Witness” hang even heavier in the room: “I want all of your mind.”

St. Vincent is the perfect pop star candidate for our new millennial tastes, and the live show for her fourth and latest, self-titled record reveals this with crystalline clarity. More Bowie than Britney, she cherry picks from the drama and glitz of the ’80s with none of its tawdry, channeling the frisson of nostalgia with a cool elegance that’s decidedly of the moment. “I can’t see the future but I know it’s got big plans for me,” goes a line on “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood” a mid-set deep cut from her 2009 breakout Actor. Assured even in prescient incantations, she seems to speak her cultural import into being, predicting and creating her impact. Because she is a pop star maximalist, donning her guitar from a stagehand like a crown, prancing from center stage to some art deco, stark white boxes like a creature. She even adopts the pose of doe-eyed lounge singer for a sensual performance of another new one, the blasphemous defiance of “I Prefer Your Love.”

But she’s a pop star of her own design, existing within her own distinct confines. Clark bucks beauty standards with casual ease, willfully embracing the female dread of “grey hair” and assembles her locks with the ferocity of a lion’s mane. None of it is accidental, surely, but none of it feels put upon either. Clark is never contrived even when she is deliberate—she feels like Clark even when she’s channeling the star power of St. Vincent. Amid a generation desperately seeking to identify with aesthetic signifiers defined by their relationship to others, she seems strangely unconnected from her contemporaries.

It feels reassuring to see that Clark’s style is all her own. Even when her aesthetic nods to others, at the center of St. Vincent’s visual and aural identity we find the girl Clark and goddess St. Vincent casually interpolated across guitar solos, structured stage banter, and sporadic smiles. The staged, pre-composed banter she prepared to address the audience with has the warm feel of a mother reading a book she knows well to her children—there’s no rigidity in her preparation. Instead, the intermittent speeches reflecting on childhood joys and hopes that is seeking to connect Clark with her fans, comes across as a warm, hospitable foresight.

It’s the moments of animal abandon that really make the live show a spectacle though. Her guitar solos recall why we used the word “shredding” at all to talk about sounds that guitars make. They’re Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, or Poison in nature and fervor, but mashed up against intricate, balanced organs and harmonies and strewn with her compelling yet child-like lyrics. Her freedom onstage seems tied to the reality of her social restraint. Dancing like she’s giving birth or heaving in sickness on “Every Tear Disappears”, or doing a corpselike ballet during the languid, high-register breathiness of “Surgeon”, she seems unlocked, revealed. For “Cheerleader”, she clambered to the highest shellacked white box of the tower to unleash a guitar solo that sounds like a VCR eating the old magnetic tape of a beat-up VHS. As if the reified role of female as sexually suggestive sidelines spectator would itself jam in the machinery of our society and cease to ever be played out again.

These images conflict with the kind but closed-off portraits we get of her in overly-lengthy and wide-eyed profiles, or even photographs of her. The hype wearies us even as we seek to know her more, but this dichotomy also speaks to our continued fascination. Hence her popularity and the all-around-din of her celebrated genius: She knows herself, and she’s assured enough in that knowledge to keep it under the lock and key of her watchful, careful dialogue with the public.

Her prepared monologues make one thing clear, though, which is that Annie Clark is a great lover of the unceasing awe of childhood hopes and dreams. For an encore, a solitary, stripped down version of “Strange Mercy” from 2011’s record of the same name soothes like a lullaby, encouraging impossible dreams with a peculiar insistence. “I’ll be with you lost boys/ sneaking out where the shivers won’t find you” goes the Peter Pan-invoking refrain. Clark invites us to re-stoke the embers of our imagination, before we learned it wasn’t cool to dream big, whopping guitar-solo energy into the tiny, extraordinary hopes we had for ourselves. Before we learned that mercy is indeed strange, and rare in our encounters with the injustices of reality, law, and hierarchy. So she sings us the lullabies and livid, seething rock songs to soothe our embattled hearts. We can never be children again, but in the flicker of her looming shadow, we find a blind belief in recapturing innocence. Whether it’s a losing battle or not, Annie Clark stands as a witness that this battle is not futile.

Dawes Brings Laurel Canyon Vibe to the Wiltern with Laid-Back Homecoming Gig: Concert Review

Dawes

Dawes

The Bottom Line
L.A.’s favored sons deliver a show that straddles the line between indie acoustics and amphitheater-ready anthems.

“I think that love is so much easier than you realize,” sings Taylor Goldsmith in the climactic moment of “A Little Bit of Everything,” a signature song for the band Dawes, ’“If you can give yourself to someone, then you should.” Maybe that boldly romantic advice goes for love of music, too, and if there’s any band worth giving yourself to at the moment, it’s Dawes, whose homecoming show at the Wiltern Friday night gave Angelenos a chance to renew vows with the city’s most crush-worthy current export.

The tag “Americana-folk” still sticks to Dawes like a Minnie Pearl price tag, and they certainly did enough to deserve it on their first two albums, which mesmerized unwitting indie-rock fans with classic virtues that were invariably described as “CSNY-like” because, well, that’s the only band that ever had vocal harmonies, right? Dawes’ acoustic leanings made for a halfway novel calling card on the L.A. scene — presaging a “back to Laurel Canyon” movement that may have been reality or hype — but those initial recordings wore their demo-ey gentleness like a badge that was meant to deflect against any charges of commercial ambition. But with their third album, this year’s Stories Don’t End, they’ve grown into their skin as an unabashedly electric, ready-for-the majors band, ready to trade Laurel Canyon for Red Rocks, if there’s even still a market for superior mainstream rock anymore.

Is there? Hard to tell from the evidence, as Dawes struggles to fill small clubs in some markets, while being hailed as conquering heroes in others, like Nashville, where they recently sold out the Ryman Auditorium well in advance. The Wiltern was a few rows shy of a sellout but still marked the largest hometown show to date for a group that, even locally, doesn’t have an obvious niche to fit into. (Tellingly, the show was sponsored not by too-cool-for-school KCRW but the upstart KCSN, a station that sort of sells neo-mainstream as the new indie.) If you squinted really hard, they were actually playing the Fabulous Forum. And forget the ‘70s, the era Dawes is most frequently — and maybe fairly — tied to. If this were a time when, say, Gin Blossoms still walked the earth, songs like “From the Right Angle,” “Most People,” and the studio version of “Hey Lover” would be huge.

But frontman Goldsmith’s singer/songwriter sensibilities are less Gin Blossoms than Jimmy Webb, with alternating currents of poetic opacity and pure, unbridled emotion that have been the twin hallmark of many a classicist rocker before him. On Dawes’ early records, Goldsmith sounded so smoothed out and unruffled that he bordered on coming off twee, but the latest album’s production lets him sound less bridled. And in person, any milquetoast qualities that you might have taken from the old albums’ meekness disappear. “If I Wanted Something,” which sounded like a folky trifle on 2011’s Nothing is Wrong, comes off as a hard-edged rock classic in the flesh now, with Goldsmith singing “If I wanted someone to clean me up, I’d find myself a maid” like somebody who’s listened to Blood on the Tracks and delivering stinging guitar solos like someone who’s spent a lot of recent time in the company of Crazy Horse.

There is a Bonnaroo-friendly aspect to Dawes, as they stretch out the albums’ fairly compact gems and let Goldsmith prove a capability for soloing you could only guess at from the recordings, even bounding around a bit — though he hardly otherwise looks the guitar hero, with his Everyman look and sleeves-rolled-up-for-work dress shirt.

Any jam-band tendencies may have been accentuated a bit Friday by the set-long presence of a guest second guitarist, Blake Mills, who was a co-founding member when the band was formerly known as Simon Dawes back in the mid-2000s. Mills has gone on to stints like being Fiona Apple’s very featured guest on her most recent tour (and has a solo project due in the spring), and he’s just notorious enough that his return to the Dawes fold was a little like Jay Farrar sitting in for an entire Wilco show. If you’ve seen any of Dawes’ other recent shows, you’d have to say that Mills’ presence slowed the set’s momentum, as the handful of contributions the band had him sing tended to be of a slower, rootsier, and less immediately compelling bent. But it did offer a fascinating look at what Dawes might be today if they’d carried on with two frontmen instead of one. Although the sharing led to some dilution of energy, there were surely benefits to having two capable but stylistically distinct lead guitarists trading riifs, as the encore’s lovely closing interplay indicated.

In the end, you don’t really want Goldsmith trading his way out of the spotlight for long. He’s gotten better at bringing out his acerbic side in once-sweet post-breakup ballads like “Coming Back to a Man,” but the singer also has a greater idealism that makes the audience sing-along section of the anthem “When My Time Comes” feel honestly earned. Smart enough to be a cynic but soulful enough to reach for something higher and more elusive — that’s tough to find these days, so no wonder the band is a favorite of Jackson Browne (who was in the house) and gets called out to open for Dylan. The on-point musicianship of the rest of the crew, including drummer/harmony vocalist/MVP/brother Griffin Goldsmith, seals the deal.

When Goldsmith sings “I think there are a few of us that still belong out on the road,” it’s not meant to be as much of a meta boast as it sounds, coming in the context of a song (“From the Right Angle”) that’s about valuing touring as an escape from relationships. But to the extent that the audience does cheer like it’s intended that way, it’s a deserved brag. When Dawes are out on the road, they’re about the best musical advertisement their hometown currently has for “Time Spent in Los Angeles.”

Set List:

Most People
If I Wanted Someone
Someone Will
Unworthy (Blake Mills song)
Fire Away
Just Beneath the Surface
Something in Common
Hey Lover (Mills)
Don’t Tell Your Friends About Me (Mills)
When My Time Comes
Coming Back to a Man
Curable Disease (Mills)
3 Weeks in Havana (Mills)
From a Window Seat
Bear Witness
It’ll All Work Out (Mills)
A Little Bit of Everything
From the Right Angle

Encore:

Time Spent in Los Angeles
Peace in the Valley

Primal Scream play hit-packed set at Brixton Academy show

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Following an eclectic DJ set from Andrew Weatherall, Primal Scream kicked off their set with ‘More Light’ track ‘2013’ – complete with brass section – followed by ‘Hit Void’.

The band then continued with ‘Jailbird’ and an aggressive ‘Shoot Speed/Kill Light’. They followed this with fellow-‘XTRMNTR’ favourite ‘Accelerator’, before tearing through a series of cuts from their recent record including ‘Culturecide’, ‘River Of Pain’ and a somber and intense ‘Goodbye Johnny’.

The end of the set was a greatest hits selection, including ‘It’s Alright, It’s OK’, a rave-fuelled ‘Swastika Eyes’, ‘Riot City Blues’ favourite ‘Country Girl’ and a stomping finale of ‘Rocks’. With the crowd cheering for their return, Gillespie and co then re-took to the stage for a ‘Screamadelica’-packed encore of ‘Loaded’, an extended ‘Come Together’ complete with audience singalong and ‘Movin’ On Up’.

Following the gig, the crowd were in positive spirits, with David, 28, from south London saying that Gillespie was, “a complete icon. Even the stuff they played earlier in the night that I didn’t really know sounded amazing”. Anna, 31, from Westminster, meanwhile, said, “The encore was amazing. ‘Screamadelica’ is my favourite album so that was incredible.”

Primal Scream continue their tour on Saturday (December 14) at Glasgow’s SECC, before finishing on Sunday (15) at Manchester Academy.

Primal Scream played:

‘2013’
‘Hit Void’
‘Jailbird’
‘Shoot Speed/Kill Light’
‘Accelerator’
‘Culturecide’
‘River Of Pain’
‘Goodbye Johnny’
‘Walking With The Beast’
‘It’s Alright, It’s OK’
‘Swastika Eyes’
‘Country Girl’
‘Rocks’
‘Loaded’
‘Come Together’
‘Movin’ On Up’

During their current UK tour  Primal Scream will be followed on the road, to document it all on a Nokia Lumia 1020 Windows Phone, allowing fans the opportunity to see the band like they never have before