The future is now.
Buried beneath the avant-garde instrumentation, the disjointed, androidesque demeanor and the fashionably angular stage outfits, Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) took the ancient rock posturing and formulaic pop song structures of yore, crushed them under a stomping high heel and ushered in a sound -- and a performance -- that can only be described as live, space-age performance art.
Wednesday night's sold-out show cemented the fact that Clark is on her own in the music world. For those of us lucky enough to be at downtown's House of Blues, it was unlike anything we had ever seen. The silver-haired frontwoman and her band seemed transplanted onstage from another planet and another time -- perhaps rock megastars from the year 2100 or the glamorized house band from a not-too-distant dystopian future -- Bladerunner, eat your heart out -- which could've been problematic or a flat-out failure if the band didn't have the musical chops and the addictive songs to back it up.
This show was a testament to style and substance, and it's rare to witness one unaffected by the other. From the moment the group stepped onstage, the futuristic fury was relentless: Synths burbled and warbled away; click-clacking percussion peppered stomping, digital beats; manufactured choirs flourished behind metallic, heavily modulated guitars; Clark's angelic voice rising and falling and rising again until it practically threatened the ceiling. All around us, the music contracted and released, climaxing and contracting on itself like a dead star.
The music wasn't the only riveting piece of the puzzle -- throughout many of the songs, the singer and fellow guitarist Toko Yasuda would interact with each other in synchronized robotic movements: Each would shuffle in impossibly tiny steps across the stage at predetermined times while accompanying stage lights went off in an epileptic rage, causing the barely moving musicians to appear like they were gliding around the stage on slow-moving assembly line belts. The effect was altogether otherworldly. Clark would also stalk the stage in this fashion like a stoic android, oftentimes with an expressionless face and rigid, mechanical arm twitches -- much to the delight of the adoring crowd.
The material off her newest album, simply titled St. Vincent, was in focus as expected, but numbers like the brash thump of "Digital Witness" and the leadoff single "Birth in Reverse" were the hardest hitting -- moving the crowd into a frenzy despite their relative newness. When the band slowed down occasionally, like during the "Nothing Compares 2 U" slow jam vibe of "I Prefer Your Love," the mesmerizing "Prince Johnny" or the disarming quiet of "Strange Mercy," the android started to bare its soul.
Older songs off of 2011's Strange Mercy, like the alternately sparse and dreamy "Cheerleader" and the impossibly complex "Surgeon" sat nicely alongside "Laughing With a Mouth of Blood" (from 2009's Actor) and the crowd-pleasing "Your Lips Are Red" from St. Vincent's debut album, Marry Me (with which she closed out the show).
Clark had the enraptured crowd eating out of the palm of her hand and, oftentimes (from where I was standing), singing along with every word. We all knew we were witnessing something special and unique, which is truly saying something in this day and age. If St. Vincent is the future, it's looking pretty bright indeed.