St. Vincent – The Kings Arms March 18, 2012

Wow, what a weekend of great music! Eilen Jewell rocked the house Saturday night at The Powerstation with her retro-country/rockabilly, Taylor Swift kept the pop tarts happy for three nights at The Vector Arena, and St. Vincent showed us why she is at the forefront of modern indie-rock with her mind-boggling set at The Kings Arms on Sunday.

Fortunately, there was plenty of time to enjoy all three, if one was so inclined. Music is NOT a competition and there is no need to negate or disparage one artist to appreciate the others. In that spirit, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) made a quick trek out to The Vector Arena to catch some of Taylor Swift’s show before facing her own fans.

The Kings Arms was packed, and rightly so. St. Vincent’s latest album, Strange Mercy, is a keeper and all reports indicated that she was even better live. I’m here to say that those reports are true.

Dressed in a pair of fetching black hot pants and a sparkly top, with her shock of black hair flopping over her forehead, St. Vincent looked like she had just stepped out of Vogue magazine. But with her guitar strapped on and her band behind her, she sounded like a true rock star.

The set began with three tunes from Strange MercySurgeon, Cheerleader and Chloe In The Afternoon. She performed the songs with equal parts passion and power, breaking in to frantic, jagged guitar breaks at the drop of a hat. At times her guitar playing became so intense, she seemed possessed, lurching around the small stage as if in the throes of a fit, or ecstasy, or both, simultaneously.

After Actor, the applause died down and I heard something I’d never heard before at The Kings Arms…absolute quiet. Such was the respect and attention given to the artist by her adoring fans. St. Vincent seemed to appreciate the moment and rewarded the room with a heartfelt ode to her adopted hometown of New York City, in the form of Dilettante.

I should mention that Annie’s on-stage chatter was nothing short of charming. She tried out a new song on the audience, a tune she wrote on the flight to NZ called Krokodile. She then discovered that there are no crocodiles or “anything that will just lacerate you” in New Zealand. After a false start…the band launched into a frenzied punk-ish workout that found the singer out in the middle of the crowd at one point. This was followed by a cover of The Pop Group’s She Is Beyond Good And Evil.

Another highlight was Northern Lights, with Clark briefly abandoning her guitar to play the Theremin. While her Theremin playing was impressive, it was her guitar playing that really made an impression. She gets a jagged, brittle, yet melodic sound out of the instrument, not unlike some of Adrian Belew’s playing with King Crimson back in the 1980s.

The set finished with Year Of The Tiger and she returned with a haunting version of The Party before ripping in to Your Lips Are Red, to finish off the night.

This was the perfect finish to a wonderful week of live music in Auckland. I hope to see both St. Vincent and Eilen again soon…and maybe even Taylor.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to St. Vincent perform Dilettante at The Kings Arms: