It was fitting that St. Vincent's first live performance in support of her new album MASSEDUCTION took place on a New York City set at Paramount Pictures Studios in Los Angeles, and not just because the album's first single was called "New York." Questions of artifice and perception have always been central to the themes of Annie Clark's songs and based on her set last night--which was livestreamed as part of the Red Bull Music Academy Festival Los Angeles--her new album and live show doubles down on this motif.
Taking the stage in a red leotard, pink thigh-high boots and a puffy red crop top sweater, St. Vincent opened up with a stripped-down, orchestral version of "Marry Me," the first of many radical reinterpretations of past hits. In a clever bit of misdirection, she performed on the side of the stage in front of the curtain, which crept open incrementally through her first three songs. When the full stage was finally revealed, it turned out Clark was up there alone the entire time.
The minimalist set up--and arrangements, which reduced the rhythm section to little more than a steady electronic pulse on songs like "Actor Out of Work" and "Digital Witness"--put the spotlight squarely on Clark's vocals and guitar playing. It was a savvy choice: the contrast between Clark's soft, angelic voice and the nasty electric fuzz of her guitar has long been one of the chief appeals of her sound.
After 45 minutes of past songs, Clark left the stage for a costume change, reemerging in an angular silver dress as she launched into her new album MASSEDUCTION, due out Oct. 13. Given the significant deviations she made to her old music in concert, it's hard to say how faithful her performance was to the album itself, but in general terms, it seems safe to say MASSEDUCTION is her poppiest and most straight-forward record yet.
Musically, at least. Her lyrics and the imagery on the video screens seemed an extension of the themes of 21st century disillusionment found on her last album but applied to a framework built around sexuality (all caps MASSEDUCTION is not exactly a subtle album title). The title track features a Kraftwerk-style beat to go along with a robotic call-and-response hook and "Pills" is a driving and forceful pop song, completely unlike anything Clark has done before.
"Los Ageless" is a good indicator of the album's style and at times, the new music sounded more like Grimes than St. Vincent. But the difference is Clark's skill with ballads and the new album features more than a few stunners. Opener "Hang On Me" is as beautiful as anything Clark's done and "Happy Birthday, Johnny" scanned as something of a spiritual (or perhaps direct) sequel to "Marry Me."
Between the vividly-drawn themes in the music and the video images--in which beauty rituals take on a menacing quality and women are literally turned into objects like lamps--it's clear that Clark had a very specific vision for her new album and tour. By placing an emphasis on superficial appearance and spectacle, St. Vincent is asking deep, important questions.