St. Vincent loves destruction almost as much as she adores creation. Her live shows are a testament to this. For the launch of ‘Masseduction’ she took to London’s Brixton Academy for a one-person spectacle that toyed with space and storytelling. Her set at All Points East was a visceral, cinematic burst of colour and shape and tonight, as she takes to Cadogan Hall, it’s all change. Again.
While previous shows in this chapter have asked questions about lonesome chairs, smeared lipstick, gender, power and just how many guitars can one person use in an hour, tonight is less about grand statements and well-lit drama, instead peeling back the characters and bombast, it revels in real life sparks.
Joined by pianist and very good friend, Thomas Bartlett, St. Vincent once again takes the expected, burns it down and crafts something sparkling from the ashes. Rather than simply stripping the songs down, this “Intimate Evening with…” sees the pair rebuild and reexamine. The opening ‘Hang On Me’ trembles with restraint, something St. Vincent has never really been concerned with before, while the dancing ‘Saviour’ is twisted with unseen menace. Hands in the piano, Thomas dials up the doom as the begging “please” goes on and on. That shadowland discovery is carried over for ‘Masseduction’ which spits and thrashes, letting words hang in the spotlight and amplifying the sadness, loneliness and mania throughout.
Thomas and Annie met ten years ago in New York and would “sometimes play songs together, filled with tequila and feeling. I’m told we had some good great times,” she laughs before promising “This is one of those saloons. We’re going to feel how our feelings feel, all of us together.”
There’s a tumbling, freeform to the evening. The whole thing is funny and gut-wrenching, as only St. Vincent can be. The normal choreographed chaos is replaced by heartfelt sharing. Mistakes and forgotten words are poked at with glee, two friends gently ribbing each other onstage (“It’s an easy mistake to make. I’m not laughing at you, this is general existential absurdism”) while marvelous songs are exposed as something new and frightfully human. Turns out the melancholic ‘Smoking Section’ was originally inspired on a ferry from Finland to Poland, where she “dodged an uncomfortable situation where expectations were not made clear,” while ‘I Prefer Your Love’ came from a conversation Annie had with her little brother. “Sadly, we were dealing with the death of a beloved family dog. He said, ‘Annie how did Molly die?’ Fun fact, I was going to be named Molly. Anyway, I’m thinking to myself, how do I answer that. How do I talk about Life and death and how do I explain the whole cycle without scarring him. Before I could answer him he asked, ‘on the cross, like Jesus?’
The pair figure things out as they go along. ‘Los Ageless’ seems to flow through St. Vincent, surprising herself with ever pose, every step forward and every vocal snarl. Husky, heartbroken and infinite, she stands still as a statue as the song twinkles and fades. ,“I’m worried we played too many happy songs tonight. Are you guys sufficiently bummed out?” she asks before ‘Happy Birthday Johnny’ and ‘Slow Disco’ has never sounded more mournful or stood closer to the edge of destruction. An encore of ‘New York’ sees the pair take the last of the control in hand. “They’re going to sing it with us, one way or another,” Annie tells Thomas. “You’re going to fucking sing this song,” she promises with a grin. After everything she’s given tonight, Cadogan Hall isn’t going to refuse this last request.
As for what’s next, that’s anybody’s guess. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Words: Ali Shutler