March 21, 2009 at 08:48 PM EDT

Actor, the upcoming sophomore effort from St. Vincent, is an album of contradictions. “I’m happy with how the orchestrated and beautiful parts on the album came out,” St. V. (a.k.a. Annie Clark) told me yesterday afternoon. “I’m also happy about how disgusting and gnarly the guitar parts came out. ” You could say her two SXSW showcases this year split up along similar gnarly/beautiful lines. Her set last night was a brief, blistering blast at the grubby club Antone’s, while her Wednesday night set at the Central Presbyterian Church (pictured) seemed to fit right in with that lofty venue. “Church shows are nice because people are really attentive,” Clark says. “There’s a reverence for the space in general, so it’s really nice to be able to put on a show with some nuance.”

Nuance, clearly, is something that Clark values in her music. And nuance isn’t always an easy quality to translate to a live setting. “It’s a whole other puzzle, and you have to figure out what has to go where to be the most convincing live,” Clark says. “It’s a little bit of a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable.” Judging by her SXSW shows, she’s doing just fine surmounting that challenge. Four accompanists deployed strings, woodwinds, and samplers in an effort to re-create the album’s intricacies. Clark herself is a focused dynamo on stage, quite possibly my new favorite live guitarist. The combined effect is often breathtaking, and I was sorry St. Vincent couldn’t play for longer at Antone’s last night.

Next week, Clark is headed to L.A. to shoot a video for lead single “Actor Out of Work.” (She wouldn’t reveal anything about the treatment she’s using for the video, fearing it would “sound really cheesy.” Mysterious!) After that, she’ll head out for some promo dates in the U.S. and Europe, followed by a full-scale U.S. tour to support Actor‘s May 5 release. Check it out if you have a chance. “Hopefully the beautiful parts [of the album] will be even more beautiful live,” she says, “and the gnarly parts will get even more disgusting.”

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