Annie Clark looks like a character right out of Tim Burton’s dreams. With her porcelain skin, big doe eyes and lots of unruly curls it’s hard to look away. It’s also very easy to take her for granted as just another pretty face. But once Clark straps on her guitar she’s a force to be reckoned with.
For BAM’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, a festival to celebrate Brooklyn musicians curated by The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Clark focused on her most recent album, Strange Mercy, which balances hints of honesty with blistering guitar breaks.
Clark, better known as St. Vincent, is a virtuoso who holds the instrument just inches below her collarbone. Her style is that of the classic rockers of the ’70s and to define her as a female guitarist seems to diminish how good she really is.
The screechy guitar freak-out on “Surgeon” mimics the woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown better than any words could and Clark knows it. Even as she sings lines straight out of Marilyn Monroe’s diary: “Best find a surgeon/Come cut me open,” it’s the guitar solos that break your heart. With each guitar solo, she stutter-stepped backwards (a more jittery type of moonwalking) to highlight every note she strummed.
Clark stays elusive on “Chloe in the Afternoon,” hiccupping her way through the tale of a sadistic woman with a horsehair whip and coos on “Cruel,” which led to some raving in the aisles. Yes, raving.
It’s when Clark goes punk though that she really hits her stride. She gets aggressive for “She is Beyond Good and Evil,” a cover of British post-punk band The Pop Group that has become a staple in her set. Clark talked about the gift the band’s lead singer gave her, a Sid Vicious dishwashing brush cleverly called Sid Dishes. Though The Pop Group frontman thought this household item was the clearest sign punk is dead, St. Vincent has to give him a little hope.
She left the guitar behind and stormed her way into the crowd for “Krokodil.” As she made her way through the pit, over a barrier and into the aisles she was swallowed alive. Not that she seemed concerned; she instead just barreled through screaming, “I need to bite” at the top of her lungs. Standing on the barrier and swinging her mic she eventually floated her way back to the stage with some help from some strong fans.
Clark slowed things down for her last song, “Your Lips Are Red,” off of 2007’s Marry Me. She dragged each line out, but still managed to leave you wanting more. It was hard to debate with her as she sweetly sang, “Your skin so fair, it’s not fair.” It really wasn’t.
Photo: Rebecca Greenfield