On a chilly Sunday (Dec. 3) evening deep in Brooklyn at Kings Theater, St. Vincent brought her Fear the Future Tour to “the place where all the freaks and weirdos come to be alright,” i.e., New York City, which the Oklahoma-born, Texas-raised artist hailed as her “adopted homeland.”
You might not know it if you’re solely familiar with Annie Clark’s recorded output, but the singer-songwriter is a live virtuoso capable of mathematically precise guitar acrobatics that speak to her Slayer and Pantera fandom. And sure enough, her ability to manipulate strings and blast speakers into oblivion was on display during the first segment of the concert, which functioned as a chronological run-through of the ‘greatest hits’ from her first four solo albums, from “Actor Out of Work” to “Strange Mercy.” It was a smart move – instead of opening with new material, she reversed expectations and delivered all the old favorites up front. So by the time she got to the new stuff on the 11th song, people were hungry for it.
And when it arrived, the change in sound and look plowed you over like a truck. On her last tour, Clark occupied the role of “near-future cult leader“; on Masseduction and its accompanying tour, she’s in “dominatrix at a mental institution” mode. On paper, that might not sound radically disparate, but the functional difference is as stark as comparing Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke.
Befitting the mental institution conceit, St. Vincent was almost entirely alone on stage throughout the night. No backing band, no backup singers – just a couple of BDSM-themed techs who helped switch guitars. With a solitary Clark playing along to pre-recorded tracks (which honestly sounded startlingly live), the staging emphasized a sense of isolation and internalized otherworldliness. Gone are the cool blues and grays of St. Vincent, replaced with warm, eye-popping pinks and oranges. Do the bright, solid colors emphasize her internal state, or are they besieging her? It’s hard to say; similarly, the Hausu-esque screaming banshee illustration on the curtain behind her was perfect — you couldn’t quite tell if it was threatening her or serving as an avatar for the artist.
Like the visuals, the evolution in sound was unmistakable as well. True, the Masseduction album sounds like a gradual growth from St. Vincent on wax — Clark leans further into the world of synths and electronics, but she softens the edges with pop production. But on the Fear the Future tour, the Masseduction songs (and even the St. Vincent tracks she revisits) are aggressive assaults on your senses… in the best possible sense.
The electronic beats are harsher and more industrial-sounding than on the album, and the synths are more wobbly and discordant; at points the electronics recall the incessant forward motion of Pink Floyd’s “On the Run,” sounding like an unstoppable sonic snowball flying down the hill – you don’t try to stop it, you just get out of the way and let it run its course. Even her vocals were harsher: On the Lodger-esque “Sugarboy,” Clark modulates her vocals so that they come out a mechanical growl. And on “Birth In Reverse,” after singing the line about “waiting for the laugh,” she expelled a bitter “HA” into the ether.
But if the sound of the new tour is slightly more jarring, Clark’s onstage presence is – perhaps in reaction to that – incredibly warm. Stage banter on her last tour was minimal, but in Brooklyn on Sunday night, Clark seemed at ease and genuinely full of joy to be playing her new album for all the “freaks and weirdos.”
Prior to singing “New York,” she put the tight timing of her stage show on hold to sing an on-the-spot a cappella rewrite dedicated to Brooklyn, subbing “Flatbush” for “Astor” and “Grand Avenue ” for “1st Avenue.” She was smiling ear to ear while delivering it, and even got off a joke about the L Train — because in Brooklyn, small talk about the L Train is the equivalent of discussing the weather elsewhere in the world.
Even mid-song, she was brighter and more casual, miming blowing her brains out during “New York” when she sang the lyric “If I trade our ‘hood for some Hollywood,” assuaging any indie scene fears that Clark’s 2014 breakthrough has changed her priorities.
“Now let’s get blood in our tooth,” she spat before moving on to “Fear the Future” (by the way, she performed Masseduction start to finish, in order). The screen behind her mimicked what lightspeed space travel looks like in movies, and yes, for a brief moment when she started singing in a higher register, it seemed like the theater might accidentally enter a different dimension.
Wrapping with album-closer “Smoking Section” (which ironically ends with her singing “It’s not the end, it’s not the end”), Clark warmly thanked the crowd and left sans encore. Hey, it’s not like she needed one – she delivered the vintage goods up front, and then proceeded to kick the audience’s eardrums into the future for the next 45 minutes. She gave her fans the challenging, invigorating headtrip they asked for, and she knew it.