Though I’d originally intended for tonight to pass me by, the influx of reviews in the British press of St Vincent’s Fear the Future tour – both positive and negative – piqued my interest and I couldn’t steer clear. Fifth album Masseduction is her first foray into straight up pop, and a perfectly intriguing trinket – would tonight, with its performance art vibes, recast Annie Clark as a cheap Lady Gaga tribute?
Clark’s tours have exponentially escalated in extravagance over the past few albums – and tonight’s live outing proves no exception, building upon the intensely choreographed tour for her fourth self-titled album with a wacky, high-concept stage design and performance. The only support is her own excellent short film, making clear from the off that tonight will not be conventional. Following ‘The Birthday Party’, the stage is reset by stagehands in black ski masks. After some time, the same stagehands pull thick black curtains slightly back and Clark steps out in its place lit by a single lamp from above. Dressed in a bright pink, brilliant leotard and armed with one of her signature guitars (both of which change repeatedly through the night), she begins to perform.
Throughout the first half of her set, she plays ‘the hits’, bastardising her earlier singles to keep in step with the bared-teeth pop that characterises Masseduction. She regularly moves around the stage, jumping to carefully positioned microphone stands that were placed by the ever-present stagehands. One track is sung in foetal position from the floor, a camera helpfully tracking her movements and projecting them onto two large screens either side of stage. The next set of curtains behind her are pulled aside again to reveal yet another pair; this time, silk, with an abstract screaming female face, blinded by the flames embroidered amongst her. A stagehand swaggers on stage to pull a slight wrinkle shut, whilst Clark continues to perform, eyes forward and unruffled.
The omnipresence of the stagehands is an ominous curio, and alongside the incredible stage design, contributes to the show feeling much more like a theatre performance than live music. Added to this is the eventual realisation that Clark is playing tonight solo – accompanied only by a backing track. Whilst it upsets a small number of audience members, it completely makes sense; it emphasises her already visible talents, ticking off the triple threat of singer, guitarist and performer. She owns the stage, despite the ski masks resembling abductees forcing her to perform and their frequent interfering. The high-concept performance is one of pop, but it’s pop on Annie Clark’s terms, just as Masseduction, performed in full in front of a huge LED screen in tonight’s second half, is her response when the world demands a certain style.
A night of bizarre excellence, the Fear the Future tour isn’t the Black Mirror allegory it could lazily be read as – it’s an expansive showcase of everything Annie Clark has mastered, from music to art to film, and a faithful snapshot of St. Vincent in 2017. As she picks up a bouquet of flowers from her feet, it’s unclear if they were thrown or had been there during the entire set, learning our lesson as an audience to question everything. However, the remedy to my fears is painfully obvious; Lady Gaga wishes she could be St. Vincent.