By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
In the back alcove of the Music Hall of Williamsburg, in the tiers of rotgut-stained bleachers, the lazy people squint. Reedy, bundled necks crane arduously, trying to defy physics and glimpse the stage below. Finally, a young guy in a white vest stands to stare; his lady companion, a dour, over-accessorized blonde, pulls his sleeve and barks, "Is she cute?"
Choose your words carefully, pal.
He pauses for stupidly long. Under the spotlights, Annie Clark, a/k/a St. Vincent, is an adorable, mystical little pixie, spastically stabbing frets and wriggling her gamine frame nearly out of a green silk dress. She and her equally waifish backing band meander in the feminist prog-rock squall of opener "Now Now" until the polite pop chorus calls them inside for dinner. She is young (25), and skilled at making an entire room pubescent and crush-prone again. Maybe it's unintentional. Probably not.
"No, she's not cute," Whipped Cream says weakly. He sits.
Just as well: Clark has enough lovelorn men to contend with on that polar Thursday night. The erstwhile Polyphonic Spree guitarist (and former soldier in Sufjan Stevens's touring colossus) certainly looks the part of a Stereogum Indie-Rock Hottie, but her stage show is less striking—she dilutes both the serrated and serene moments of her nervy 2007 solo debut, Marry Me, in her band's mid-tempo squall, her throaty, hiccupping lilt dueling with bossy electric violin. She is unfailingly enthusiastic, a Brooklyn native jazzed to finally sleep in her own frigid loft again, but the evening is nonetheless a weirdly static adaptation of a Byzantine record, a performance timid at its core in spite of her charm. It gradually makes Clark appear younger than her years, no longer a sincere spirit but someone crouching inside commotion. Maybe her stint with the sixtysomething-member Spree conditioned her to seek quantity at the expense of quality; even her solo rendition of "Dig a Pony" loses itself in scabrous distortion.
The night's only concept of "soft" comes in the first stanzas of "All My Stars Aligned," Marry Me's most tortured track. It's a fantastic portrait of disillusionment, and as Clark slides in delicately ("I set all my false alarms/So I'll be someone/Who won't be forgotten"), her voice quavers, dissolves, and takes some time in cobbling itself back together again. Whether or not that too is unintentional, it's still a perfect moment, revealing Clark as kin to any twentysomething woman: drifting aimlessly, anxiously inventing, uneasily sizing up anyone who might just have it better. Maybe having fun doing it. It's a bummer that Clark can achieve this effect but not yet control it: Nothing tonight proves as suspenseful as that sight of a boyfriend's life flashing before his eyes.