St Vincent’s London show was one of the most divisive gigs of the year

"Amped up karaoke" or the second coming?

St Vincent returned to London for a sold-out show at The O2 Academy in Brixton. After releasing what was NME’s and many others’ album of the year with her self-titled record in 2014, she came back with the frantic follow-up of ‘MASSEDUCTION‘ last week. With critics in the palm of her hand, this show should have been a cakewalk to further universal acclaim – but it was anything but.

Opting to screen her own directorial debut with the Lynch-meets-Pinter short film ‘The Birthday Party’ in lieu of a support act, she arrived on the edge of the stage through a thin break in the curtain. Opening with ‘Marry Me’, she then played through cuts from her first four records in chronological order as the curtain slowly shifted across the stage. As the full stage came into view, the audience would learn that the skittering mechanical beats they could hear were in fact a backing track – rather than a live band.

After a brief interval and costume change from pink latex into a futuristic silver number, she re-emerged on a plinth to play through her new record in its entirety. Solo and backed only by a surreal fantasy of imagery, her performance was striking but minimal… for some, at least. Almost as loud as the backing track was the murmur of confusion from doubters asking, ‘Is that it?’ It seems that supporting yourself before playing a brand new record in full and denying the crowd a live band can be dubbed as ‘self indulgent’. Some were fully enthralled for 90 minutes, others were left feeling a little cheated.

The Independent were made up with St Vincent’s decision to go it alone, declaring that “the sheer audacity of the move” was “breathtaking”. Four stars too from both The Evening Standard and The Telegraph, who praised the show’s brave and bold minimalism, while DIY concluded that “St Vincent’s decision to withhold everything that’s expected of her is surely the entire point.

Social media lit up with upset fans, and one of the most damning reports came from Clash who condemned it as merely “amped up karaoke”, adding: “I’ve always refuted friends’ claims that St Vincent is all style and no substance, but it feels right to admit that last night was a failure on both counts.”

St Vincent live at The O2 Academy in Brixton

St Vincent live at The O2 Academy in Brixton

Many took to Twitter to voice their delight:

But would would Twitter be if not a hub for hate too?

The whole thing became a pretty hot topic before the gig was even over…

The truth is that it was a total triumph. Allow us to hop the fence and join those fawning over Annie Clark’s bravery. Here stands the closest thing that our generation has to David Bowie. While David Jones used Bowie as a vehicle and canvas for his fluid and restless ideas, so has Clark with St Vincent.

On her third record, ‘Strange Mercy’, she played the “housewife on barbiturates and white wine”. After embarking on her funk-fuelled android adventure with David Byrne, she returned on her breakthrough self-titled record as a ‘near future’ cult leader. The resulting tour was precisely the religious fever dream that you’d expect – driven by clockwork choreography and a manic performance quite literally atop her own altar.

Now, she’s set herself up as the “dominatrix-at-the-mental-institution”; using her seductive performance to present a stark and surreal reflection of the absurdity of the modern age. In a world where too many play it safe, she thrives on uncertainty with a risk that pays off. She stripped away the excess but maximised the spectacle and stands tall as a singular and powerful force. She’s the icon that we need, even if we don’t know it yet. At least she’s given us something to talk about.

St Vincent live at The O2 Academy in Brixton

St Vincent live at The O2 Academy in Brixton

St Vincent’s setlist was:

Marry Me
Now, Now
The Strangers
Actor Out of Work
Cruel
Cheerleader
Strange Mercy
Digital Witness
Rattlesnake
Birth in Reverse

Hang on Me
Pills
Masseduction
Sugarboy
Los Ageless
Happy Birthday, Johnny
Savior
New York
Fear the Future
Young Lover
Dancing With a Ghost
Slow Disco
Smoking Section