St. Vincent with Blue Roses
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
Wednesday, July 8th 2009
Fittingly set in the cultural surroundings of the ICA, just the shake of a corgi’s tail from the Queen’s pad, tonight this venue offers a soiree of highbrow music from both St. Vincent and Blue Roses.
A discerning group of the more intellectual brand of music punters hang out in the coffee shop before the show, chatting about all things from the futurism art movement to the musings of Nichtze, whilst sipping quaffable looking vintages. My pint of imported lager impresses those admiring me too, I like to think (especially the lovely Sadie from support act Blue Roses, who sits ever so tantalizingly close by).
Kicking things off, Blue Roses is an adorably shy Yorkshire lass who's previously toured under her own name. Laura Groves. She politely thanks the audience for their applause after each song. There’s something very gracious about the English tendency of the band to downplay their own abilities, that everyone seems to love, myself included.
When these abilities include a wonderfully powerful singing voice and tremendously moving folk ballads, it’s no wonder that Blue Roses has been attracting plaudits on the back of her self-titled debut longplayer. And to be honest, the record doesn’t do the group's live performance justice, something they have in common with similar story-telling folk groups down the years.
The pounding piano and choir-like vocals on I Wish I… is complex and infectious, while the strings and melodies on Coast with its drivingly repetitious chorus, resonate girl folk duo First Aid Kit. Blue Roses use elements from other genres to differentiate their songs however, with 80s synth on the strangely upbeat yet somber I Am Leaving, while the brush-stroked cymbals and flamenco strings on Does Anyone Love Me Now? gives it a North African or Spanish feel.
Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, is a different prospect altogether. Possessing a striking model-like appearance not dissimilar to Winona Ryder, Clark is an über-confident lead/solo artiste clearly born to perform. Dominating the stage in front of her brass and electric band, including sax and clarinet, she demands and receives the room’s attention throughout the night. Even a protracted five minute David Byrne anecdote keeps the crowd hooked on her every word: "So he came walking up to me at the side of the freeway, and I was like, ‘is that David Byrne? THAT’S DAVID BYRNE!’ And then he said he ‘digged’ our music which is kinda nice".
Performing songs from both albums - Actor is itself a wonderful follow up album to 2007’s brilliant debut Marry Me, Clark is a bewildering and important song writer who recites her pains, lovelorn losses and life highs through captivating pop songs. The use of reverb vocals on most tracks only adds to the air of mystery that surrounds the surreal nature of her dream-like renditions.
The immense talent that is St. Vincent manages to pack a full orchestra’s worth of talent into one person. With touches of electronica and prog-rock, most notably in set closer Your Lips Are Red, which sees the Texan-born New Yorker rocking against her Vox amp in true rock'n'roll style.
Having recorded and toured with Sufjan Stevens and The Polyphonic Spree prior to concerning her solo career, it’s clear that St. Vincent is capable of drawing from a number of musical influences. Lyrically verging on the genius, one wonders the boundaries of her abilities. Comparisons to Regina Spektor are apparent, but St. Vincent outweighs Spektor musically, particularly on Actor Out Of Work, the set’s defining moment.
words: Andy Fairclough
Actor by St. Vincent is out now on 4AD. Blue Roses by Blue Roses is out now on XL Recordings.