St. Vincent and Noveller - Orpheum Theatre - 3/18/14

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St. Vincent & Noveller Orpheum Theatre 3/18/14

Downtown Phoenix's Orpheum Theatre is kind of a surreal place, as the stunning concert hall blends both the past and present in grand fashion. And St. Vincent deserved to perform at no other venue in town, as her show on Tuesday evening was steeped in both classical and modern elements.

After Noveller -- a one-woman guitar surgeon from Brooklyn who uses loop pedals to create an orchestral sound -- opened, a robotic voice politely asked the audience to refrain from recording the event digitally. And surprisingly, the crowd actually listened and everyone wound up standing in their seats and danced, spending the evening in the moment, instead of wondering what people online would think.

Annie Clark, better known to the music world as St. Vincent, opened with "Rattlesnake," the opening track on her self-titled fourth album. She quivered across the stage, her legs always stiff as she attacked her guitar with butcher knife precision. She followed with "Digital Witness," a song that mocks the addiction to talking about oneself online, like those who feel that if you can't tweet it, Instagram it, or Facebook it, it's like it never happened.

It's been over a year since I've been to a show that banned devices, and I forgot how powerful that feels. I almost never use my phone during a set, but when there's darkness all around you as well, it brings the experience out in a totally different way. The experience felt shared and I was really happy to find myself among such a good crowd. The value of being present and in the moment wasn't lost on us and that gives me hope for the future.

A few times between songs, Clark would tell us what she had in common with us before delving into a slightly askew, almost Lynchian story. She wore a dress stapled with felt bodily organs, making her resemble an anatomical doll.

I don't remember every song she performed, as I wasn't writing much of anything down, but I know she explored the crescendos on "Mouthful of Blood," and "Cruel" expertly, her voice soaring through "Cheerleader," "Northern Lights," and "Prince Johnny." And she slid around the stage, jerking from snakelike attack poses to zombie queen sways.

Most impressive of all -- more than her shifty stage pirouetting, more than the gorgeous lighting or costume design, more than her vocal agility -- were her explosive guitar skills. She can string along and destroy those strings almost like a hair metal band, but with beauty, grace, and uneven neurosis.

For the encore, Clark reappeared wearing the black, futuristic dress she wears on her cover and slowly teased out "Strange Mercy," my favorite song of hers and then devolved into manic thunderings across the stage. When we left, there was something strange about the night. Something had changed and no one had any proof and somehow, that made it even better.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Noveller, St. Vincent at The Orpheum

The Crowd: Very posh people wearing these weird gowns that looked like something from the '20s. I felt really underdressed. Overheard: The light rail malfunctioned and I ended up waiting for an hour and someone drove by snarling, "Get a car, bitch." Personal Bias: I feel like this show exorcised a lot of my demons. Really something else and only wish I hadn't gone alone.


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