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St Vincent at Brixton Academy: Needed to dig deeper

St Vincent                                                                          Brixton Academy, London


The woman of the moment in music is St Vincent, whose real name is Annie Clark. She is said to be from Texas, but, like many a pop star, she may well be from Mars. She has long legs, implausible looks, perfect posture and a powerful voice. 

Not since Grace Jones, decades ago, has a female singer come along with such a commanding presence.

Like Jones, St Vincent has taken the slow road to success. When she turned 35 last month, she had spent a grand total of two weeks in the UK Top 40 albums. In traditional art-pop fashion, she wowed the critics first, then the awards judges. 

The public are set to follow: as we went to press, her fifth album, Masseduction (Loma Vista Recordings, out now, ★★★★), had reached the top five in the midweek chart.

She has become a bigger name partly by accident, through her love affair with the model Cara Delevingne. It seems to have ended in heartbreak, which is tough on her, but just what the muses ordered: St Vincent’s electronic pop, sometimes too icy for its own good, has now warmed up. 

Her latest single, New York, is the ballad of the year, bursting with beautiful sadness.

St Vincent (above) plays guitar with imperious ease. But she makes one big mistake: she doesn't bring a band

St Vincent (above) plays guitar with imperious ease. But she makes one big mistake: she doesn’t bring a band

All the signs are that she is ready to go from cult figure to superstar. On stage in Brixton, she looks sharp, in a pink-latex leotard with matching knee boots. She has a typically decisive set design, featuring mauve walls, half-closed curtains and enigmatic mugshots. 

She sings and plays guitar with imperious ease. But she makes one big mistake: she doesn’t bring a band.

Apart from the guitar, all the music is pre-recorded – mostly slabs of synthesiser. Even after 40 years of electronic pop, this feels like cheating. St Vincent is a statuesque performer, and a band, or even a pianist, would have added life and movement.

As it is, the show feels too cold and controlled. In the first half, as she dips into her first four albums, only the punchy Digital Witness breaks the ice. In the second, as she bravely performs Masseduction in full, New York and the soaring Los Ageless stand out, but most of the tracks are something I never thought St Vincent would be: merely middling.

Earlier in the week, on Later… With Jools Holland, she sang Crazy, the Patsy Cline classic. It’s not easy to improve on Cline, but she managed it by slowing the tune down and digging deep into her soul.

Which is just what this gig was missing.



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