3 weeks late and a doller short. Blame the following for this being the case; work, hangovers and my high degree of lethargy.
A few weeks ago I made my monthly trip back up to Leeds to see my friends who had the misfortune of having another year of studying ahead of them. I last went up in September which, because of reasons outside of any of our hands, was not the greatest of weekends. Still, the main reason I was dropping by up North this time was because I was getting a chance to see one of my favourite bands of the past few years perform live at the Brudenell Social Club in St Vincent. The Brudenell is a place I’d only dropped into previously because the pub next door stops serving at a ridiculous time on Friday nights. It’s a weird place both from the exterior of the venue as it looks like it hasn’t been refurbed in 40 years or so. You can’t honestly look at the place and work out why exactly such big name acts have played there nor can you tell how nice it is inside.
Seeing bands you consider to be one of your ‘favourites’ is always a risk as you can go into the gig with stupidly high expectations; will they play the songs you like? will it be a set filled with ‘new’ material? will it be utterly shambolic? will it be a 90 minute free jazz jam session? An example of this would be Crystal Castles who I’ve seen twice in the past year (their own gig and also as part of the NME Awards Tour) who put out an absolutely incredible and matured second album filled with luscious synthetic sounds which is hard to decipher from the live environment. It was definitely a case of their music not translating well onto a live format as Alice Glass just seemed to drunkenly scream into the microphone for 45 shambolic minutes. The same goes for Four Tet’s live show which, whilst it’s still very creative and interesting to an extent, is pretty boring for the most part (his DJ sets are still quite the treat) resulting in no one dancing or really hanging around to watch it unfold. With all of these things considered, I went into this gig with a degree of apprehension.
Hindsight’s a crazy thing; I had nothing to be apprehensive about. The glorious synths of their opening song “Surgeon” which instantly reassured me that this gig would be something special. Unlike some of the gigs I’d been to previously where the song live sounds JUST like the version you hear on record, this version sounded a little more off-kilter with the guitar sounding a little more jittery and frantic and the chorus riff having a greater degree of prominence than in the version on the album. I cannot stress just how good of a guitarist Annie Clarke is; it’s pretty clear that her style has been influenced by David Byrne most notably when she solos with that stop/start style of dancing Byrne was famous for.
One of the best things about the whole set was the fact that all of the new songs sounded really really good live. Take a song like “Dilettante” which isn’t one of the more memorable tracks off of Strange Mercy, it sounded great in a live setting as the sound was incredibly rich. “Cruel” (you know, the song with the video where she’s kidnapped and made to do ‘womanly’ duties for a family) which is one of the more well known songs off of Strange Mercy sounded even better live than I thought it would after seeing a mediocre performance of it on Letterman a few months back. The version she played at Brudenell had a more significant impact and the vocals sounded so so so much better, maybe because I was actually in the room instead of watching it on youtube.
The same goes for anything she played from the first album Marry Me (hey look, an Arrested Development reference, this gal could charm the black off of a a telegram boy) which I’ve only briefly ventured into after hearing her utterly insane and damn near show stealing encore version of “Your Lips are Red” made such an impression on me that the first thing I did when I got back the day after was stick the first album on repeat. The image of the diminutive leaping into the crowd mid solo and going utterly mental on the guitar in the middle of the crowd isn’t something I’ll forget any time soon.
Annie Clarke’s vocals have always been pretty astounding on record, but live, they were nearly overpowering. Her stripped down version of my favourite St. Vincent song “The Party” left me with a lump in my throat (which is a really bizarre feeling) with it’s gorgeous simple keys and heart aching final two minutes or so. The crescendo of that live version can’t be complimented enough; it built and built getting more and more emotional after each “ooooooOOOOOoooOOOOOoooo“. The whole crowd seemed to be just in a stunned silence admiring a song that doesn’t get enough love from fans just break a room full of people down. It’s hard for me to describe what I felt when this song ended as it was one of those performances that made you enjoy a song you previously liked anyway a whole lot more; it went from a song I liked to a song that strikes an emotional chord with me each time I listen to it now.
Combined with these moments of absolute emotional turmoil were minutes of brilliantly distorted and heavy noise, her live performance of The Pop Group’s “She Is Beyond Good and Evil” was out and out post-punk glory that featured that loud and emotionally cold style you expect from The Pop Group and PiL. With a catalogue of songs conveying human emotions (with sinister undertones not playing such an overtly prominent part), Clarke’s live covers of this song as well as Big Black’s “Kerosene” show a dark and vicious side to her music; behind all the glorious synths and smooth vocals is a punk musician just waiting to break out.
When the show ended, I walked out to find my friends (none of whom like the music I do, woe is me) having a drink and waiting for me. I was almost stunned silent by the barrage of sound I’d just encountered that I had trouble even communicating or emoting what I felt. I’d gone from being hypnotised by songs like “The Party” and “Strange Mercy” to being punched in the gut by a mighty performance of “Your Lips Are Red“. Oh, and the image of a woman playing a THERAMIN was something that no one else could really get their heads around especially because they didn’t see it in all it’s glory. Music needs more theramin solos btw.
All in all, it was one of the better gigs I’ve ever been to; LCD Soundsystem are high up on the list, but this 90 minute set was something else. Unlike most shows where I leave and stop listening to that artist for a good while, I could not stop listening to all 3 of St. Vincent’s albums on my coach back home the next day. Everything from Clarke’s awkward anecdotes with the crowd to the crazy guitar solo she did during the encore made this a near perfect show. One complaint? She didn’t play “Laughing with a Mouth of Blood” or “Kerosene“. Still, I’m not going to complain too much, I left the gig with a great sense of optimism about the music scene; whilst a band like St. Vincent will probably never be that mainstream of an act, I can sleep easy knowing that there are acts out there that can pull off theramin solos in 2011.
I’d like to thank Nicole Paciello for letting me use the photos she took at the gig. If she had said no then I’d have had to use pictures from other shows which, whilst you wouldn’t know the difference, would probably eat away at me as I’d know I was a no good liar. So yeah, thanks to Nicole (who’s got a load of great pictures from gigs in and around Leeds on her Flickr) for saving me that guilt trip by allowing me to use her pictures.