St. Vincent has received an enormous amount of accolades since the February 2014 release of her self-titled fourth record, and it is every bit deserved. The author behind NPR Listener’s #1 album of 2014 and Grammy nominated “Best Alternative Music Album” has been described as “the darling of art rock,” with lyrics that operate at the intersection of “happiness and madness.” While those descriptions are accurate, they don’t completely do justice to the masterpieces St. Vincent creates.
With uniquely experimental arrangements that fuse pop palatability, and virtuoso level guitars, St. Vincent does not just bend genres. She shatters them into translucent fragments and re-works them into beautiful, dance-worthy sonic mosaics.
As a music fan of this generation, St. Vincent has been an immensely exciting discovery. Having missed out on the most acclaimed decades in rock’n’roll, I didn’t think I would ever have the chance to witness this level of musical innovation.
So you can imagine my excitement when I got the random urge to check her tour schedule in early December and found that she would be opening for the Black Keys on December 21st, which also happens to be MY BIRTHDAY! (I’m slightly convinced this was fate repaying me for a year that, while otherwise productive, has been severely lacking in live music.)
I managed to score pretty decent seats at the cheapest price of Kansas City’s Sprint Center. After my fair share of shows at Los Angeles arenas like the Staples Center, I was a little nervous about the sound quality. Luckily, the seven-year-old venue was built with supreme acoustics in mind, and everything sounded crisp and clear in my mid-level seats.
Just after 8:00 p.m., the lights went out and St. Vincent opened to a half full arena with “Rattlesnake,” the opening track from her latest release. Her set ran just under an hour, as she commanded the stage with effectively minimalistic choreography. The performance, impeccably executed in every aspect, sampled the span of her four album catalog with tracks like “Cruel,” “Marrow,” “Digital Witness,” “Cheerleader,” “Prince Johnny,” and recent single “Birth in Reverse.”
Actual dialogue with the audience was kept to a minimum, except to welcome the “freaks of Kansas City.” The crowd of Black Keys fans seemed unsure of the opening act as they watched from their seats. (I am about 99 percent sure I was the only standing audience member without floor tickets). That was until she burst into one of her many furious guitar solos-and the entire arena would erupt in supportive roars.
Every person I know who’s been to a St. Vincent show raves about her ability to shred. While I am not sure I would use a term that is often in reference to head banger music, she is certainly an expert at getting colossally intricate sounds out of her main instrument. (Although it did make sense that she used to be in Iron Maiden and Metallica cover bands after the thundering performances of “Huey Newton,” a number that on record is pretty trippy and mellow, and the night’s closing “Bring Me Your Love.”) By the time St. Vincent exited the stage, the arena was nearly full, and the crowd converted from indifferent to awe struck.
The Black Keys continued to give me the best birthday present I could have asked for, playing a completely solid set with a full band. While their brand of bluesy indie rock may not be new, they do it well, and put on a good show. I barely stopped shaking my hips the whole time they played, which really is the true measure of a good rock show. (And with such a tough act to follow, that’s not an easy thing to deliver.)