St. Vincent Played with Perception in Downtown Phoenix, January 2018 | Phoenix New Times

St. Vincent Played With Perception at The Van Buren

She toyed with what it means to see an artist perform live.
St. Vincent performs at The Van Buren on Friday, January 26, 2018.
St. Vincent performs at The Van Buren on Friday, January 26, 2018. Melissa Fossum
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St. Vincent opened her sold-out January 26 concert at The Van Buren in downtown Phoenix with “Marry Me,” moving like a coin-operated puppet arcade game from the 1950s.

When the lights went down, the curtains only opened halfway to reveal the artist — whose real name is Annie Clark — dressed in a neon pink latex bodysuit with matching thigh-high boots. Her dark hair was slicked back, and her skin was white and flawless under the stage lights.

The Grammy winner's movements were robotic and jerky, as if she were being manipulated by a devious puppeteer lurking above her. A backing track of the song's emotional string arrangement played under her warm and arresting vocals. The musician's body language suggested she felt distant from the song that launched her remarkable career in 2007.

It's one of the many striking choices St. Vincent is making on her current Fear The Future tour in support of her fifth album, Masseduction. Those who have seen St. Vincent in the past are accustomed to the artist performing with the support of a full band and her animated, unhinged stage presence. But during her concert at The Van Buren, there was no band to back her up and little trace of that crazed virtuoso. Before she left the stage for intermission, that is.

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St. Vincent's Fear the Future Tour is highly visual.
Melissa Fossum
St. Vincent started the night by playing some of her biggest hits, and playing with the notion of what it means to see a performer live. You pay money, and she plays the songs you came to hear.

Even with her guitar strapped on, Clark continued a puppet-like performance of her popular singles through the first half of the set. Some songs, such as “Cruel," had slightly altered arrangements, but still highlighted what makes her one of the best guitarists today, playing with the effect pedals in a way that made distortion seemed melodic.

She launched into “Cheerleader” standing in profile and singing directly to an invisible subject on the other side of the stage. As the single moved into its staccato refrain, the performer never faced the audience, challenging the on-demand culture we live in.

At one point during the concert, St. Vincent acknowledged that she's moved from performance spaces to concert halls. Provided that evolution continues, it's just a matter of time before she starts selling out arenas.

The performer from Dallas never seemed like someone who would give an audience the indie-rock equivalent of a Taylor Swift concert. But ambition and the avant-garde aren't diametrically opposed.

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St. Vincent opened her set with "Marry Me."
Melissa Fossum
That's why her latest stage show looks like it could be the next phase of Clark’s plan. In another year, it seems like we could see Clark belting out torch songs in front of giant video screens as trained dancers perform intricately choreographed routines.

But it's nearly impossible to say what she'll do next.

St. Vincent’s resistance to the public’s presumptions about her fits right into one of the themes of Masseduction. She returned from a brief intermission to perform the record in its entirety, looking much more comfortable and relaxed as she launched into the future-pop opus. Nightmarish images of plastic surgery played on a screen behind her.

The manic energy longtime fans were expecting came into the forefront on “Pills” and “Fight The Future.” The themes of the album (fame, beauty, power, and anxiety) resonated a little deeper live than on the record.

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St. Vincent's stage show has evolved with her latest record.
Melissa Fossum
“The next song could have easily been written about Phoenix,” she told the audience with a wide grin. “You are truly the only motherfuckers that can handle me.”

Then, she launched into her hit song "New York," which is partly about the death of David Bowie. At that moment of the show, it seemed like Clark, with her dark dystopian vision, nonconformist message, and transcendent guitar work, could be his successor.

The audience probably expected to hear a few songs and go home, not realizing they would witness a 90-minute hybrid of punk rock and performance art. Clark constructed an experience far more heartfelt and moving than your typical concert.

"Marry Me"
"Now, Now"
"The Strangers"
"Actor Out Of Work"
"Strange Mercy"
"Digital Witness"
"Birth In Reverse"

"Hang On Me"
"Los Ageless"
"Happy Birthday, Johnny"
"New York"
"Fear The Future"
"Young Lover"
"Dancing With A Ghost"
"Slow Disco"
"Smoking Section"

Critic’s Notebook
Last Night:
St. Vincent Fear The Future Tour with Tuck and Patty
The crowd: Delightful dreamers
Notebook dump: During “Fear The Future,” the audience was witness to the Instagram roll from hell. It was A Clockwork Orange for the 21st century.
Overheard In The Crowd: “Were her aunt and uncle also in The Polyphonic Spree?” — overheard as Clark thanked opening act Tuck and Patty, who are also her aunt and uncle.
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