Photography by Maria Jose Govea
Earlier this week, Annie Clark teamed up with Italian beer company Peroni to design and curate an interactive art space in New York City’s Nolita neighborhood. The three-day event, which featured DJ sets, visual installations, and a film premiere, was part of the run-up to Masseduction, her long-awaited fifth album as St. Vincent, which she’ll release on October 13th. Like much of Masseduction’s accompanying artwork, the space was both dreamy and garish — a brightly colored and distinctly modern series of rooms inspired, she said, by the Ettorre Sottsass-led Memphis design movement, as well as the surrealist work of director Federico Fellini. Both artists seem like obvious muses — and kindred spirits — for Clark, especially at this point in her career. Though she’s been called an influential pioneer for years now, her latest work, much like Sottsass and Fellini’s, exists in a space all its own, where the lines between reality and fantasy, humor and severity, and commercial and high art simply don’t exist. And nowhere is that more apparent than in St. Vincent’s Fear the Future Tour.
Presented by Red Bull Music Academy Festival Los Angeles on the Paramount Studios back lot, in the middle of a massive New York City movie set, Saturday night’s Fear the Future kickoff show was designed to be a multi-sensory experience. Hours before Clark appeared, attendees were encouraged to cruise through the set, visit food trucks and bars, and admire the work of Clark’s current visual partner, Willo Perron, who filled the back lot’s faux buildings with glowing pink and red curtains, as well as neon signs for things like fortunetellers, cosmetics, and hot dogs. The location itself was a multi-layered Easter egg of sorts, as Masseduction’s first two singles are titled “New York” and “Los Ageless”, and Clark keeps residences in both cities.
Onstage, Clark commanded this moveable feast like a space-age dominatrix. Dressed in a pink patent-leather bodysuit and matching thigh-high boots, she started the night with the title track from her 2007 debut, Marry Me. Sans guitar, her voice bent and bellowed over a piano and orchestra of strings, all of which seemed to be hidden by a massive black curtain. As she repositioned herself to revisit older tracks “Now, Now” and “The Strangers”, she pushed the visual trick further, occupying different gaps in the drapery, until it was eventually revealed that there was no band at all. Instead, lush backing tracks accompanied her brutal and bracing guitar playing for the remainder of the night. Later in the set, she’d toy with the audience yet again by sitting down onstage to perform 2011’s “Strange Mercy”. Behind her, a fanged and Seussian-looking face appeared to swallow her whole as she sang.
If there was any question as to whether or not Fear the Future could have benefited from a full band, it was thrown out the window around the time she dropped into “Rattlesnake”, which built from an insistent and pitch-perfect bop into the kind of guitar solo that has become St. Vincent’s calling card — angular, knotty, and so sharp it seems beyond the instrument’s physical capabilities. She closed the retrospective half of the concert with an equally frenetic rendition of “Birth in Reverse”.
Still, it was the second leg of the night, during which she performed all of Masseduction, that proved to be Clark’s crowning achievement. Here, the Paramount set’s windows became eerie vestibules of pulsating light synced with the music. Above the stage, Perron’s piercingly vibrant and vaguely fetishist visuals, similar to the ones seen in Masseduction’s album art, flashed like a hyper-color infomercial. Meanwhile Clark, now dressed in a pointed silver dress and turquoise armbands, looked like an impossibly coiffed visitor from a future prophesized by The Jetsons.
The singer has described the aesthetic of Masseduction as somewhere between sexy, silly, and kind of scary, but the new tracks also carried a fresh air of self-possession. Where ballads like “Hang on Me” and “Happy Birthday Johnny” felt startlingly bare, they also cut like a knife on Saturday night. Elsewhere, curveball bangers like “Pills” and “Los Ageless” pushed Clark’s set into euphoric dance floor territory, while also making for some of the most powerful social commentary of the set.
Of course, this has long been the St. Vincent way — pairing highly stylized concepts with songs that are wry yet solemn, and creating sounds that exist in some previously unoccupied zone between pop and the avant-garde. But with Fear the Future, Clark’s vision feels both more immediate and fully realized than anything she’s done before. It’s proof positive that she is an army of one. And there’s nothing surreal about that.
Actor Out Of Work
Birth In Reverse
Hang On Me
Happy Birthday Johnny
Fear The Future
Slow Disco Interlude