Concert review: A rockin' St. Vincent strange but stunning at Stage AE


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St. Vincent had a late night Thursday into Friday sitting in for Kurt Cobain.

The artist formerly known as Annie Clark had the honor of filling in for the late Nirvana singer -- along with Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and Lorde -- in the wee hours of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in Brooklyn and then again at a secret after-party. She tweeted that it was the "best night of her life."

On Friday, the singer-songwriter-guitarist from Tulsa, sporting some shocking white hair, was back to the grind on the night after that best night her life, playing Stage AE. There's a little less mystery now why she's been slipping a faithfully hard-rocking cover of "Lithium" into the encore on this tour.

The Nirvana hookup is another notch in an impressive resume for St. Vincent, who has toured as part of the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens' band, and most recently was sharing stages with David Byrne. They were a perfect alliance as St. Vincent draws from the school of art rock that incorporates Talking Heads, "Scary Monsters"-era David Bowie and early '80s King Crimson.

We've seen female art-rockers, from Laurie Anderson to Kate Bush to Bjork, but none quite like St. Vincent, a Berklee College of Music near-grad who has guitar hero chops to go with her spiraling, off-kilter melodies, operatic vocal range and the quartet's heavy distorted electronic beats.

The opening of "Rattlesnakes" was positively stunning, starting with her robotic dance moves and climaxing with a whiplash, finger-tapped guitar solo. "Birth in Reverse" had her tiptoeing back and forth with bassist Toko Yasuda in a frenetic little duel that Fripp and Belew would have loved.

The new self-titled album brought everything from the jarring funk of "Every Tear Disappears" to the cabaret noir of "I Prefer Your Love" to the gorgeous, Kate Bush-like "Prince Johnny." She grabbed a few highlights from "Strange Mercy," including "Surgeon," with its alien attack of a solo, and "Cheerleader," a big, slightly warped-sounding power ballad. The later the set went, the more white-hot metallic she got with the souped-up guitar ("Huey Newton," "Bring Me Your Loves").

She ended rolling on the floor with a chaotic "Krokodil," only to return for a soothing, solo "Strange Mercy" and her clanking "Your Lips Are Red." No "Lithium" here.

Her strange songcraft was adorned by a spare but visually beautiful production that had her at times in her red-splattered white dress playing (or writhing) on a set of pink wooden steps, creating shadows on a pink backdrop. On this tour, she's into shadows and strobes reddish/purple lighting.

It's more daring than fun, as St. Vincent doesn't set out to make accessible pop music to sing along to. Put it this way: If Lady Gaga's sound actually matched her visual, it would be more like this.

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-262-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.


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