Captivating a crowd of 1250 people is no easy feat, but former Polyphonic Spree member Annie Clark never fails when she takes the stage as St. Vincent. She commands your attention with the tiniest crane of her neck or sideways glance. Spellbound, you’ll find yourself drawn nearer to the stage–and that’s when she has you right where she wants you. Set in her web, you’ll find yourself pleasantly entranced.
With lights out, St. Vincent took the stage on Tuesday night at House of Blues Cleveland and positioned herself, breathing in the crowd’s energy. As the unforgettably delicious synth-laden opening of “Rattlesnake” came to life, so too did she. “Digital Witness” kicked the night into a dance party.
St. Vincent’s set was peppered with musings of the queen. “No matter how many times you jumped off the bed hoping to fly, you never gave up hope,” she cooed before spinning into Actor‘s “Marrow.” Following closely were songs off of this year’s self-titled album (“Every Tear Disappears”) and 2007’s Marry Me (“Jesus Saves, I Spend”).
Before 2009’s “Actor Out of Work,” St. Vincent purred, “Your friends, they love you, but they don’t know everything about you. Sometimes when you look at your hands, they look like somebody else’s. Sometimes when you look at your body, you think that it could be someone else’s entirely.”
“Surgeon” held the queen on the top of her pink platform, an alien dance party exploding forth with brilliant lights from the stage. Writing and crawling down the steps, St. Vincent whirled into “Birth in Reverse” as that bass line nearly induced a riot. There is nothing to say of the parallel guitar lines and well-orchestrated choreography in “Bring Me Your Loves” but goddamn. Brought back to the stage by a raucous screaming from the crowd, St. Vincent delivered two more songs–“Strange Mercy” and “Your Lips Are Red.”
A dangerous expectation can grow when one familiarizes themselves so deeply with an album that they can’t fathom it recreated in any other manner. One of the truest tests of the strength of a musician and their songwriting is if that person can transfix an audience when stripped of all the bells and whistles a backing band offers, simply armed with their voice and instrument. Tuesday night, Sondre Lerche took the stage to open the evening, a white guitar slung over his slim frame, and began his set with “Legends” off his newest album, Please. Pared down to just guitar and his strong voice, the song held a power entirely different than the album version. It was simply beautiful.
“We gotta make the most of our time together. Well, here and on earth,” he said between songs.
As Lerche stepped away from his mic to “see what he could get away with,” my breath caught in my throat. The House of Blues generally draws a crowd that won’t silence themselves, easily distracted by too much imbibing and conversation and this evening proved no different. But performers have to take chances during their time on stage and perhaps in some small way, Lerche was trying to address the crowd’s rudeness, to win them back or simply connect more deeply with those that were honed in on the magic he was weaving. Either way, those too distracted by their drinks missed an intimate moment as the man plead the case of a love lost with “My Hands are Shaking.” It was nothing short of heart-wrenching as he howled fragments of the song, concluding with an explosive guitar solo that wept with raw emotion.
Lerche was open with his audience, spilling details of a song’s ideation before performing it. “This is another old one. This is one I wrote when I was still a virgin,” he revealed before playing “Two Way Monologue.” “Modern Nature” was prefaced with a story about a trip to a cabaret at the tender age of sixteen. “Now I want to play for you the most diplomatic divorce song,” he intoned before “Lucky Guy.” The percussive nature of “Bad Law” was the only song that left me wishing that a band backed him because maybe then the crowd would have given the performer the respect and attention he deserved as they let the brilliant pop tune wash over them and just danced. Regardless, those closest to the stage caught on and let the beat take them over.
If you missed the show or just want to experience the setlist, here’s a playlist of St. Vincent’s set: