“I would worship her,” said a crowd-goer during St. Vincent’s evening set on Day 2 of ACL Fest. There was not a hint of hyperbole. They meant they literally would become worshippers at the altar of Annie Clark, finding meaning in her lyrics, guidance in her latex, ecstasy in her solos. They believe she is a higher power.
I’ve seen St. Vincent perform three times, and each time she invokes in me an electrifying awe. Tonight’s set was no exception. When the lights went down and the musician stalked onto the stage in her thigh-highs (St. Vincent inspired me to buy thigh-highs recently) and skin-tight red latex mini dress, she dominated.
I use that word intentionally, because of one of the reasons the artist and her performances have resonated so deeply for me recently is because of how she takes inspiration from kink and domme/sub aesthetics in a way that spreads the vast complexity of human intimacy wide open.
I always want to be careful when about writing about sexuality in the context of women artists. Just because I, myself, am a woman doesn’t mean I’m incapable of being degrading or fetishistic with my words. But for St. Vincent, the artful explorations of eroticism and desire and power are just as much a part of the work as her mind-blowing musicianship. Boys and girls and limbs and brains and pleasure and pain.
“I can’t turn off what turns me on,” is the chorus she moaned during “Masseduction,” a song off her album of the same name. That expression, coming from a queer woman (and going into the ears of another queer woman -- me) felt especially desperate and especially powerful in the wake of all of America’s recent political events. How do we keep what is ours, when it feels like everywhere it’s been taken away from us? One way, Clark insinuated with her stage conversation, is to “fight the power.”
The artist spoke to the audience several times during her set, calling it a “miracle” that she and her band and the audience were all together. No matter what’s happening outside in the world, she said, “this moment’s ours.”
And she made it hers, playing and moving and singing and sweating with precision and passion, throwing her whole body into flaming solos on her unique, brilliantly colored geometric guitars. Unlike in other performances during her Masseduction tour, St. Vincent performed with a full band, notably curating the outfits of the male keyboardist and drummer to hide their faces under nude masks and blond bowl cuts.
During “Slow Disco,” her bassist used her hands to played two keyboards at once, one with each set of fingers, and it was killer. At another point, Clark and the bassist rotated in tandem to play their instruments facing away from the audience. All the while, the seemingly endless collection of surreal, body-horror visuals -- Clark talking on a rotary phone as blue goo spills out of her mouth, being manipulated by floating hands, or gazing at flies buzzing in a fishbowl while decked out in full clown attire -- cycled perfectly in time with the set list.
In a particularly thrilling moment toward the end of the set, some of Clark’s flawless choreography went off the rails as she struggled to yank off her luxe elbow length red glove. She made a goofy face and joked about failing at her “sexy cabaret move,” then shuffled into the spotlight, which was not where she expected. When an artist is so beautifully intentional about every aspect of her work, these little moments of silliness are really exciting, and it made me love Clark even more than I thought possible.
Finally, the Dallas, Texas native closed out her set by playfully changing the words to “New York” to reflect her current location -- “And if I call you from Congress Avenue” before performing the ballad in its original form to a starstruck, adoring crowd.