Live: St. Vincent Faces The Temple Of Dendur At The Metropolitan Museum Of Art


St. Vincent
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Thursday, August 25

Better than: The two-hour wait I endured last time I was at the Met.

“This is my last song… You probably heard it on the Internet.” Sort of an odd thing to say at an event hosted by one of the two major American rock mags still standing, but what followed was sort of odd, too: “Surgeon,” which begins with a Nancy Sinatra/James Bond references and the line “I spent the summer on my back” and ends with a prog workout that begins easy before slowly crescendoing towards combustion. And she was right; we had heard it on the Internet.

St. Vincent—a.k.a. Annie Clark—and her backing band came to the song’s abrupt end at exactly eight o’clock, at which point they exited stage right past a crowd of fans apparently unaware of the venue’s strict curfew, roaring for an encore to conclude the 40-minute set. But the venue was what caught our attention, right? The show was originally scheduled to take place among the Anthony Caro sculptures that currently populate the roof, but a nasty forecast moved the show inside, next to, in the words of the Met’s press release, “the magnificent Temple of Dendur in The Sackler Wing.” (Better than: Terminal 5.)

When covering a museum show, you generally have two angles to choose from: a) you talk about the clash of high and low, the contrast between the world in which Isis is a god to whom you might dedicate a temple and that in which Isis is a metal band to whom you bang your head and lose brain cells, or b) you describe how there was no clash, how the muscian’s pop-as-art blended seamlessly into the gallery space. St. Vincent’s 40 minutes on stage worked because neither paradigm really felt appropriate. Sure, we could talk about her guitar cutting through the room on songs like “Marrow,” or the way the video for “Cruel” (another one we had heard on the internet) moves from Andreas Gursky to Tina Barney, linking the cult of grocery store consumerism to the cult of domesticity. But these would both be journalistic simplifications much too neat for show St. Vincent put on.

And besides, much of what makes St. Vincent’s music so relentlessly interesting is its resistance to this sort of neat categorization, its unwillingness to fit snugly into a certain genre or sound. Likewise, her most visually impressive guitar line wasn’t the abrupt riff that crunches through the chorus on “Marrow” but the similar, barely audible part on “Save Me From What I Want.” With the volume now turned up, we saw and heard Clark moving violently up the fretboard in a race against the beat, the passion concealed by her steady vocals.

Critical bias: If she had covered Big Black I totally would have went with angle A.

Random notebook dump: I’ve never seen Met guards this laid back. I was sure I was going to get yelled at for sitting on of the handrails as I waited for a friend, but no one seemed to mind.