St. Vincent’s self-titled 2014 album has the kind of cover that would have stopped me in my tracks in a record shop as a teenager. It’s the kind of cover that looks so cool the music has to be interesting at the very least. Back then (mid 80s), sometimes that was about all you had to go on. If you were lucky maybe someone said they heard that it was good or you caught a song at a club. Plunking down eight bucks on a record was often a roll of the dice. A great album cover though was a huge signal. Joy Division and New Order’s great Peter Saville covers persuaded me to buy both at the same time.
St. Vincent came to me via a 2014 version of this. “Digital Witness” showed up in someone’s playlist that I was streaming and that album cover got me. I listened to it on repeat for months.
Later that year Rebecca and I saw her in concert twice. The things that struck me right away were the rehearsed gestures in her performance.
I recognized them right away as akin to the gestural/ritual movement popular in the performance art world (at least the one I was a part of in the 90s). One of the first shows I was in was a movement piece about gay men dealing with AIDS. We had a whole section derived from a morning routine in front of a mirror and another one around bathing.
All of this goes to say that I was really excited to see her new show this past Thursday and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was just her on stage the whole time (somehow I didn’t read a review of the tour beforehand). The set consisted of curtains and lights revealing more and more of an empty stage.
After a quick blackout and costume change, she performed her latest album front to back in front of a video screen with colors and images from her new album artwork and videos. At one point a woman came out in a complete costume just to hand her another guitar (her own design). It reminded me of the time our stage manager swept the stage before the show each night, dressed in a nurse’s uniform.
Anyway, the point of all of this is that I thought this was the perfect distillation of what she’s been working towards over the last few years. It was a beautiful, singular statement — risky and bold. Apparently, this was also a bit divisive but like that article concludes, “The truth is that it was a total triumph.” And I didn’t miss the band. She’s such a bad ass with that guitar, that’s all you need.