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Falling in love with St. Vincent

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Stvincent_lYou don’t often go to a rock show and see a prosthetic arm rigged to a microphone stand and left in the middle of the stage. But this was no ordinary show. It was the New York debut of the four-piece St. Vincent, formerly just singer/guitarist Annie Clark, but now a full-fledged band. The arm didn’t get used until four songs into her 10-song set, on the bossa nova jam “Human Racing.” She started frantically clapping with the plastic hand to kick off the song, generating drum-machine handclap sounds and some old-fashioned skin-on-skin in response from the sizable crowd. So that was one question answered; but what about the band itself? Would St. Vincent be the sludgy rockers of “Your Lips Are Red”? Or the tasteful jazz players of “What, Me Worry?” (Both from the brand-new debut album, Marry Me.)

Luckily, the packed house got to see a little bit of everything at last night’s Bowery Ballroom gig. The show may have been her New York coming-out party, but Clark was more in awe of her audience than we were of her, if that’s even possible. “Thank you for coming!” she kept gushing between songs and applause. The crowd recognized a number of songs immediately, cheering in particular for apocalyptic waltz “Paris is Burning.” All that adoration was certainly deserved: even more than on record, St. Vincent’s music was an idiosyncratic, engrossing creation.

addCredit(“St. Vincent/Todd Seelie”)

Clark’s been compared to Feist (okay, by me)  but as a complete artist, she might be even better — the songs are more fully realized and aren’t just vehicles for her voice, and her range (both vocally and stylistically) is staggering. Like Feist, she’s an adept user of live tape-looping — the art of using a pedal to record a few moments of some instrument (guitar or voice in this case) and then playing it on loop while she plays or sings over it to effectively add another player to the mix. At several points she attacked her electric guitar with a Sonic Youth-like ferocity; at others, she produced floating, elegiac tones that weren’t dissimilar from Radiohead’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien.” Her wit recalls quirky singers like Regina Spektor — take the track “Marry Me,” a piano ballad that the band dropped early on, where she entreats a lover, “Oh John /Come on / We’ll do what Mary and Joseph did / Without the kid.” It’s the kind of sly, punning moment that shows up throughout her songs and can’t help but grab your attention.

It doesn’t hurt that the slender brunette is pretty easy on the eyes. Clark received a number of “Marry me!” catcalls throughout the show, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she keeps getting them every night for the rest of the tour. Title your album like that and you’re asking for it, but either way, she’s an artist who many people are inevitably going to find themselves in a committed relationship with. There are just certain things you can’t say ‘no’ to. St. Vincent is one of them.