Live Review & Photo Gallery: St Vincent @ The Institute, Birmingham – 24/10/2014

Preceded by a computerised voice that requests refrain from technological devices for the show’s duration (an instruction flouted by inconsiderate pockets of the crowd), Annie Clark – owner of the pale complexion and wild-but-styled grey hair that currently defines her ever-morphing St Vincent moniker – marches into view with the rigidity of an automaton, jerking her angular body in time to the opening hiss of Rattlesnake. Completing the first verse without her signature jet-black guitar, she’s saddled with it in time for its blitzkrieging solo and from then on, barely lets its six strings breathe.

Whether charging through Digital Witness’ funky stomp, the (rather fitting) Sabbath riff that disturbs the skittering hip hop of Huey Newton or the histrionic wig-out of Cruel, Clark – a consummate showwoman – is only ever a windmill away from aping Pete Townsend’s legendary theatrics. But, far from being a static shoegazer, there’s more to Clark’s charm than just a few effects pedals. Draping herself saucily over pinkened LED steps like some balladeering X Factor hopeful on I Prefer Your Love, orchestrating a dramatic stereo pause as Regret begins to inch off its leash and tottering impossibly back and forth on her dainty, high-heeled feet between the verses of Birth In Reverse, she can also dazzle without so much as playing a note.

On a night where pop and prog entwine, nothing, it seems, is off limits. And, as the set draws to a close, things get even more unorthodox. Tiptoeing precariously across the audience’s hands and taking a smatter of ironic selfies with crowd-owned cameras as Year of the Tiger burns out, she’s lifted hazardously onto the balcony and up to those seated above. Yet, laying her life on the line is exactly what Clark’s always been about. Pouring personal experience into every song and ripping through her fingertips as she goes hell-for-leather on her instrument, tonight she writes herself into alternative rock’s pantheon with a performance worthy of her saintly alias. And one to whom, we, the aghast onlookers, are truly not worthy.

Words: Dan Owens | Photos: Sam Wood

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