St. Vincent – [Live]

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

The Echo is a strange little dimension of the Los Angeles nightlife. Certainly unmatched for its people-watching prospects, the tiny venue sits directly on top of an adjoined venue, the Echoplex. On August 4th, the night that I’m about to discuss at length, two shows occurred adjacent to each other in this building. On the bottom floor, the Echoplex, the FerdieFest benefit for 400 Blows’ drummer Ferdinand Cudia whose bout with chicken pox racked up an enormous hospital bill. FerdieFest boasted a cavalcade of volume, with acts The Bronx, Qui, The Locust, The Melvins, and The Circle Jerks. I heard talk of Har Mar being there, but I can’t back that up. I was a bit disappointed that, in lieu of this raw sonic clusterfuck, I would be standing upstairs listening to people who would more than likely express their feelings with words. I was proven wrong at least partly, but we’ll get to that later.

The first act of the night was a blue-eyed soul group named after its singer Josh Haden. I wonder if they know how ironic I found that, given Josh’s dearth of talent in comparison to his backing. Yes indeed, the worst part of Josh Haden (the band) is Josh Haden (the man). Choosing to mumble rather than croon with arms tightly folded and gaze permanently set at his feet, Josh looked as though he’d been forced into it. Even in moments where the songs would pick up dramatically in ways that begged for some kind of visceral mellisma, Josh would rear back from his microphone so as not to exude anything but aloofness. The guitarist seemed to have charisma in spades and the bassist was constantly dancing along, but bespectacled Haden kept up a slumped-over and uninteresting posture. As an audience member, standing only feet above a genuine Locust freakout, it was torturous. But perhaps he was just bashful having to actually speak the lines “Let your clothes fall down to the floor, girl/ Don’t despair, I’m the one who can love you more.”

Luckily, Death Vessel set up quickly and immediately turned the night around with only the first moments of his opening song “Horchata.” Death Vessel, comprised tonight of its lone core member Joel Thibodeau, is a blend of old psychedelic and mountain folk with just a hint of today’s avant-vogue approach to folk (like freak folk or whatever they’re calling it now). Joel bares more than a passing resemblance to Maynard James Keenan despite his rather short stature and sports a voice that is firmly androgynous and powerfully expressive. His guitar playing is imaginative and catchy, and his lyrics… well, he could sing just about anything and I’d say it sounded great. And after he had finished his set with a barnstorming number I just have to find a copy of, he whispered his appreciation and exited the stage. How this soft-spoken man manages to captivate audiences with just an old guitar, a small amp, and a microphone escapes me, but goddamnit we need more of it.

The first thing I noticed about St. Vincent’s Annie Carter was her beauty. It’s almost impossible not to, especially those piercing green eyes (or were they hazel? sigh..). With her soft features and freckled nose, it’s easy to picture her as a delicate songstress of only the most innocuous of pop music. And then, only 2 songs into the set, she threw her Gibson SG to the floor and solidly kicked it across the stage. That’s the strength of St. Vincent I suppose, a beautiful exterior but a heart on fire. Annie stood flanked by a man with a floppy hairstyle playing a violin in his best Clockwork Orange Droog outfit and another man stalking about the stage with a bass around his neck. In the back, a drummer sat loudly. Annie moved to a keyboard for a song and quickly and efficiently rendered the microphone stand useless and wobbling. A guy in a trucker hat jumped up to help her, although he seemed to do more harm than good. Later, when Annie took a moment to thank him, he woo-hoo’d loudly in my ear. During a delightfully vicious alone moment, Annie unleashed her stomp pad, an amplified little section of floor that she pounds with her foot for percussive effect. She offered to deface the picture of herself on her album for anyone who requested it after the show. She smirked during her performance of “Marry Me” after the line “Let’s do what Mary and Joseph did… without the kid,” with a sly, half-giggling comment, “We’re all going to hell.” She dropped offstage briefly before doing an eagerly-yet-silently welcomed encore performance featuring a duet with her friend John Vanderslice who just happened to be in town. And then, not to be upstaged, Annie picked up her guitar for one last beautiful moment and played “These Days,” the old Nico tune. Perhaps it’s a bit blasphemous to say, but I prefer Annie’s strong, flowery vocals to Nico’s slightly mannish, vaulted tone.

After she finished her encore and everything went silent, I suddenly realized I could no longer feel the thumping fracas from the show underneath mine. This show had outlasted the cavalcade of chaos beneath it. But I guess some of us concert-goers are just tougher than others.

More one St. Vincent here:

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