An Open Love Letter to Annie Clark

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Everyone has a crush on Annie.

Anxiously anticipating the encore of her March 22 concert, the audience rattled the floors of Fox Theater in Oakland with chants of “Annie! Annie! Annie!” A newcomer to her music would never guess that the snowy-haired, electric-guitar-playing space princess known as St. Vincent was the stage name of the reserved, down-to-earth Annie Clark, but this was an audience that called her name like she was a familiar friend.

Perhaps this comfort came from the palpable connection between Clark and her audience. As she opened with two songs from her new self-titled album, “Rattlesnake” and “Digital Witness,” the audience instantly joined in singing and dancing. And when she followed these with the pulsing beat and beautiful strings of “Cruel” from her last solo album Strange Mercy, the audience–and not just a few people, almost everyone in the crowd–continued their exuberant participation. I felt part of a fan base that loves Clark not for her most recent release or newest fashion choices, but for her whole inspiring body of work and for her own personality.

But do fans love the character St. Vincent or the person Annie Clark? Clark reveals little about herself outside of her music. David Byrne, who she collaborated and toured with last year, commented that he knew Clark no better when the yearlong tour ended than when it started. Clark already takes aesthetic and musical risks that could alienate many potential fans, so without vulnerably exposing personal details to her fans, how does she keep them enraptured and in love?

If nothing else, the contrast between St. Vincent and Annie Clark is fascinating. By keeping fans intrigued by her dynamic quirks, fans remain invested for long enough to discover that there is not a difference between Annie Clark and St. Vincent; there is an Annie Clark within St. Vincent and certainly within St. Vincent, her most recent album. With a new electrified white hairdo that rivals Einstein and more grating, dark tracks than she’s ever released, St. Vincent could easily have been an overly pretentious experiment that strayed too far from her previous work in its eccentricities. But it accomplishes the opposite, reinforcing the genuine core of Clark’s music and of Clark herself—jazzy, spastic, and otherworldly.

This authenticity within Clark’s apparent inaccessibility specifically comes through in her lyrics. Take “Cheerleader” from Strange Mercy, a powerful track that brought sighs and gasps from the audience as they immediately recognized its opening guitar chords. Lyrically, the song exemplifies Clark’s knack for balancing relatable simplicity with metaphorical poetry. The audience smiled contentedly as they sung along to both the universally relevant “I’ve had good times, with some bad guys, I’ve told whole lies with a half smile” and the more abstract confession “Held your bare bones with my clothes on.” Somehow, both lines are equally understandable, comforting, and striking, a pattern that continues throughout the lyrics of songs on Strange Mercy.

This lyrical trend continues on the new album. Like “Cheerleader,” “I Prefer Your Love” fromSt. Vincent juxtaposes lines like “all the good in me is because of you” with the eeriness of being alone “as a careless sun sets in the west.”

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The audience’s overwhelming appreciation for and knowledge of Clark’s lyrics was impressive, but they connected immediately to other musical elements. St. Vincent’s technical guitar skill is extraordinary, but it becomes jaw-dropping at live performances. “Bring Me Your Loves,” a must-listen from St. Vincent, elicited multiple outbursts of “Holy Shit!”, sudden screaming, and my favorite—the still and silent fan with one hand on his head. Unique, highly unexpected musical choices like jarring guitar slides and spacey synth loops embellish Clark’s musical consistencies. Almost every song contains complex and grating guitar solos, but they never become trite. Despite her experimentation that often crosses into the territory of video game sound effects, Clark’s musicality, like her lyrics, maintain centered on familiarity and authenticity.

Like most concerts, St. Vincent’s performance was not only about the music. It was about theatricality, about technology, about the audience, and about her. Clark, though she only had one clothing change for the encore and a simple set of a white stepped pyramid, created quite a show as she took on the characters of robot ballerina, alien princess, and girl-next-door Annie Clark herself.

During musical interludes, she tilted her head to one side, widened her eyes, and tiptoed backwards like an android shuffling en pointe. She draped her body horizontally over the pyramid steps, shredding on the guitar while singing “I Prefer Your Love.” She reigned over her band, the audience, and even the strobe lights while standing atop the tiered set. St. Vincent appeared magically distant both from the stage and from reality.

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Despite this ethereal theatricality, St. Vincent and the audience never lost sight of Annie Clark, the sweet Oklahoma born singer. Each time she changed between her four guitars, Clark thanked or acknowledged the crew member who switched out the instruments. She talked to the audience in an airy, angelic voice about topics everyone knew, like delays on the BART. She joked about the childhood temptation to shoplift candy and progressed into the childhood dream of making tin foil wings and flying away. It’s difficult to remember whether she told these stories with the pronoun “you” or “I” because they were all “we” anecdotes—communal dreams.

The audience’s dancing and shouting during Clark’s most upbeat songs shifted to enraptured listening whenever she conversed with them. Through the whole concert, Annie Clark never told a single personal detail about herself. But her musical and conversational interactions with the audience were so easy to connect to that it became clear how strong her individual voice and emotions are embedded within her St. Vincent persona.

Such authenticity, more than anything, is what makes Clark so easy to crush on. This Oakland concert and her newest album are reminders of Clark’s undeniable charisma. She can dye her hair bright white, splatter her songs with screeching slides, sing about fuckless porn sharks and the Hagia Sophia in the same song, and we still feel close to our dear friend Annie. So we keep loving her.

photo credit – NPR

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