St. Vincent tore down all the foundations of conventional concert expectations during her Monday, February 19 performance at the Civic Theater.
The show introduced its signature act by hiking back the stage curtain a short skip to the right, revealing only the spotlighted singers as she opened with a moving rendition of “Marry Me” from her breakthrough 2007 LP of the same name. The shrouding drapery flirtatiously bared more of the background with each passing song before exposing a deserted noirishly-lit set reminiscent of the red room from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. A second back curtain persistently hung like the final undergarment in a strip-tease, alluring the crowd to the non-doubt hype supporting band furiously playing just out of site. During this time St. Vincent singlehandedly lead the audience on a journey through her back catalog, starting with slower, intimate numbers as she gradually accelerated to more dance-ready bangers.
The backstage finally derobed its remaining veil during “Strange Mercy” to reveal a distressed vampiric face which St. Vincent laid beneath for the penultimate performance of her first act. It was now apparent there would be not backing band – St. Vincent was a one-woman show. Following a brief intermission, the show concluded with a start-to-finish performance of her most recent album, 2017’s Masseducation.
I have had Masseducation on consistent rotation for the past several months now, and was shocked and thrilled to surmise by “Happy Birthday, Johnny” that St. Vincent was gifting us a live, song-for-song play through her latest LP. Complete album concerts are typically trafficked by veteran acts revisiting a decades-past pinnacle of their career, not modern musicians still striving toward their zenith touring on new material; even then, these shows generally end with the hits, not begin with them.
Further betraying well-grounded assumptions, St. Vincent continued through the second-half of her set as the show’s lone performer. While many solo composers I’ve seen (Lana Del Rey, NIN’s Trent Reznor) choose to add a backing band for a more raw live sound, St. Vincent owned the stage all on her own…and an intimate, acoustic gig this was not. St. Vincent hit the crowd with all the force and theatrics of a full arena show inside the Civic. Damn-near epilepsy-inducing strobe lights pulsated over a theater-sized projector flickering Boomerang-esque clips of the singer in poses that were equal parts Nip/Tuck-meets-Barbarella; the visual showcase was backed by a bass track that shook the front-stage’s standing room space. Still, none of this detracted from St. Vincent as the show’s main attraction, as she crunched industrial-solos on her guitar while entrancing the crowd with her flawless vocal range. Satirically, St. Vincent crooned the final refrain “this is not the end” from Masseducation-closer “Smoking Section” as the words “The End” slowly faded in on the screen behind her in an old-timey movie font, concluding the show.
Audiences need not Fear the Future as St. Vincent’s tour-title implies. Rather, they should fully embrace the unpredictable as she forges new frontiers of musical exhibition.
Photos by Jason Hall.