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LIVE REPORT: St. Vincent
Jeremy Allen , February 21st, 2014 15:26

Cornishman in Paris Jeremy Allen heads to La Cigale to see St Vincent reinvent herself yet again with a phenomenal set from her new album

Photography by Valerio Berdini

If like me you've wondered why Annie Clark once adopted the sobriquet St. Vincent, then now (ironically when it hardly seems to matter), an alter-ego has burst forth that almost cries out for a new name. It's a manifestation that's taken time to arrive, though this exotic alien is no less sparkling or surprising because of that gestation period. This new St. Vincent seems either estranged from the Annie Clark we think we know, or perhaps she's in some way channelling a hidden, egocentric part of the singer? Or should that be the other way around?

The press photos of Clark with a shock of white hair that did the rounds last year were the first hint something was up. Some of us wished the idea for the look had been thought of sooner to add symmetry to her partnership with silverfox David Byrne. Whether or not inspiration thence came, Clark's transformation looks like the single-minded pursuit of an artist stridently in control of her own destiny.

Cigarette thin with hair matching pallor, she strides confidently onto the stage and rattles through 'Rattlesnake', complete with staggeringly good choreography. This is the kind of thing you expect from a Janelle Monae or even a Beyoncé, not an indie girl from Oklahoma. She moves like a marionette one minute and a cyborg the next, and the glare from her geisha face is offset by her eyeshadow, a Warhol screenprint come to life. It's a strong look, and almost the antithesis of the freckled Forces Sweetheart for the plaid flannel army that she might have been pegged as before. Everything about this new St. Vincent states independence and control, as she eschews the indie heartland from whence she came for the dog eat dog showbiz metropolis.

This is a seamless performance carried off with aplomb, and the new material sounds magnificent, played mostly alongside her near perfect 2011 Strange Mercy album. 'Birth in Reverse' already sounds like an old friend, and the choreographed interchange between Clark and her musical foil on stage and the way the lighting alternates between stage left and stage right, well… you had to be there. 'Digital Witness' is Parade-era Prince, while the incisive finger work on the aptly named 'Surgeon' and her ability to play complicated runs while singing something entirely different still never ceases to astonish. The dazzling virtuosity at the conclusion of 'Cheerleader' that whips the French crowd into a frenzy is equally matched by new showstoppers like 'Prince Johnny'.

At the conclusion of 'Prince Johnny' she hands her guitar away and - dressed as she is in a black cocktail dress with a bleeding heart sewn into it - clambers her way down a box mountain on stage before lying prostrate like some broken renaissance Christ plucked straight from the walls of the Louvre. It's a rare nod to classical art in a show that plays pop accessibility off against the experimental. Other highlights include a dangerously energetic 'Krokodil' and 'Huey Newton', with its very metal conclusion. 'Bring Me Your Loves' is a track so strange and far-out and yet so inimitably St. Vincent that it could be the pinnacle of her considerable creative achievements so far.   

Truly great artists take their theatre seriously, and Annie Clark appears to have joined a rare breed of successful shapeshifters who get bored and, before we have the chance to, try things anew. They know when to pick us up as we mourn the loss of that special thing they do, before pulverising us with something new and improved so we can fall in love all over again. It's a neat trick if you can pull it off, and an even neater one if you can do it again, and then again, and then again, like a Bowie or a Madonna. For now let's just enjoy the fully formed manifestation of St. Vincent in the here and now, and tip a chapeau to the architect of this strange, sensational stage incarnation.