ST VINCENT: Art-rock queen rules over Manchester

Annie Clark is arriving in Manchester with quite a bit of buzz firmly behind her. The artist otherwise known as ST VINCENT has sold out Manchester Cathedral, with fans who missed out desperately scrabbling around for spare tickets.

The New York based Clark has just released a self-titled fourth album, and has been making waves not only with her ultra-talented musical self but also her rather stunning grey-haired look helping to make her something of a fashion icon. It also hasn’t hurt to look to collaborator DAVID BYRNE for inspiration, her now highly stylised onstage persona wagging tongues all over town. She’s also worked with Amanda Palmer, which also shows. With all this build-up, it would be easy to worry that expectations are riding too high, but we’re eager to see the new St Vincent incarnation that so many are talking about.

Following the delightfully dreamy sounds of the rather forgettable GLASS ANIMALS, the crowds pile into the striking gothic cathedral, the only real down-side of this enchanting venue being that beyond 20 rows or so back you can’t see anything happening on stage unless you happen to be 6-feet tall. It’s absolutely rammed as Clark and band enter the stage to screams of support. There’s a lot of love in the room for her.

At the head of what turns out to be a lengthy set, Rattlesnake and Digital Witness slam home the stamp of Annie Clark on the city. If you didn’t know what was coming, you do now – the erratic robotic movements as if a woman possessed by rock, she sets the tone for the show, as well as providing one of the catchiest lines of the night: “People turn the TV on, it looks just like a window / Yah…”

To be honest, at this stage I’m more taken by fabulously chic keyboardist-guitarist Toko Yasuda who for me outshines Clark in terms of her natural cool charisma, the brilliantly choreographed foot-shuffle duet in Birth In Reverse easily my favourite part of the show and greeted with immense applause.

The vocals are spot on and Clark displays her otherworldly guitar strokes with gusto, her outfit looking not unlike Snow White dragged through a hedgerow or two. She fills the gaps in between some tracks with witterings which sound very staged and pre-prepared. She loses the audience each time she does this, some members laughing out loud in ridicule, but the breaks are refreshing given the set length and it’s beginning to feel more like an art performance piece than a gig, especially with the light shutdown at the end of each song. She soldiers on seemingly oblivious to the audience, for some of the songs climbing onto the top of her white podium, only to slide down it again and eventually lie on the ground in a moment of high drama.

The set gets more to my liking again as it closes, a lot of rocking out by Clark and Yasuda bringing the energy right up.

It really depends how you want to interpret all this – are the attention-seeking monologues going to endear (as Amanda Palmer has so cleverly mastered, but she’s been clever to get intimate with her audience to make that connection) or turn off? It’s worth noting that Clark did not come out to greet fans after the show which might reveal a possible strategy. My instinct is that Annie Clark is definitely onto something interesting, but her current set is without doubt uneven from a purely musical perspective. Let’s hope that she is aware of this and listens to feedback. Maybe when she’s got her feet more on the ground, we will really have a contender. Right now, this is a work in progress, feeling a bit overly manufactured – a sign of an artist learning to position herself in the industry especially after being picked up by a major. I wonder if maybe the most fascinating phase will be actually after she’s gone independent again. Either way, we’re keen to see what lies in store for her and she clearly has a great deal to offer.