Katie and I did our best to arrive early. We were aiming for 4pm, a reasonable time considering the expected 7pm door time. Of course we arrived closer to five, and experienced that disheartening circumstance everyone whom has attended a free concert has encountered, reaching the end of the line only to find that the line continued for another 500 or so feet, over the hill and through the woods. The situation wasn’t as dire as it seemed though. We were maybe (only) 3,000th in line, well within Prospect Park band shell’s seven thousand-person cap. We were also lucky to make friends on line, Mikey and Catherine, a handsome couple in front of us (actor/ cue card holder for The View and singer/wedding gown model, respectively), who provided conversation (mostly on the myriad of jobs necessary to remain creative in the city) and later, blanket space.
Before long, the line began moving and we arrived at the gate. The area in front of the stage was set up with chairs, all taken of course, but our party was able to stake a space not far from the stage by creatively rearranging some recycling bins. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t pay too close attention to the opening band, San Fermin, despite an acquaintance, Rebekah, being the group’s violinist. The sections of their music that did wisp into my awareness were pleasant enough though. The consensus of the blanket was that they were vaguely “National-y,” (the swell was there) though the male vocalist left something to be desired. There was a palpable excitement as St. Vincent took the stage, and it was clear that Annie Clark was whom the crowd had come to see. The band entered with enthusiasm, the crowd entirely behind them, but the first two songs were only remarkable for how staid they felt. There seemed to be a problem with Clark’s guitar in the first one, and tech had to come out and shake it for her, which seemed to solve the problem. “Digital Witness,” the second song also felt, at least to me, lackluster. The song is such a powerhouse on the record, but the energy just wasn’t there. The band picked up considerably from here on though, especially after the brief monologue immediately following “Digital Witness”:
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and a very special, a very warm welcome to the freaks and to the others. I think we have a number of things in common. Not just location in the time-space continuum at this moment, but in fact very human things, like, for example you were born before the 21st century. Sometimes when you laugh, you look like a maniac. Your favorite word is ‘orgiastic,’ and once, when you were a little kid, you built a hot air balloon out of a bed sheet that you really, really, really hoped would fly, and you were so disappointed when you had to learn about gravity, and you found out that that was not enough. BUT, the reason that you’re here and the reason we’re still here, living on earth is because we never, ever, ever gave up hope.”
This outpouring seemed too elaborate to have been off the cuff, but it was still thrilling to hear this quasi-spoken word, outsider affirmation, most of all to those in the audiences, odd-balls like her (present company included), who harbor hopes to one day (maybe hubristically) reach a similar stature. With this out of her system, this seemed like the cue for her and the band to cut loose.
The next song, “Cruel” was just breathtaking. It was already one of my favorite songs of hers, and while the live version was played slightly differently than on the record (the band did their signature “off time, but really just for that one bar,” thing to stunning effect) it was refreshing to hear this updated version. This was just one of many tracks off the album Strange Mercy. The set was really built upon this album and her latest, eponymous release.
Some of my favorite moments of the concert included her song “Every Tear Disappears”, during which she coolly segued into Tears of Fears’ “Shout,” melting in the chorus “I’d really like to break your heart, I’d really like to break your heart,” and the first song of her encore, a stripped down, hair-raising performance of “Strange Mercy” which she performed alone. Here Clark’s vocal and guitar prowess really radiated through. What really made the show for me though (and made me glad that we didn’t bounce early to beat the train traffic) was the last song of the night, “Your Lips Are Red,” really a relic when juxtaposed with the rest of the set. The song is off the first album, and one I have not heard before. It included a full-scale, Mars Volta worthy wig out at the end, this space seemingly reserved for the “freaks and to the others” in the crowd she had referred to earlier.