St Vincent at The Playhouse Theatre Edinburgh performing on the penultimate night of the Edinburgh International Festival programme was undoubtedly one of my “festival” highlights of 2018.
St Vincent aka Anne Erin Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and multi-media performer who at first glance can be mistaken for surface gloss theatricals and occasionally pretentiousness, but look again, and underneath the on-stage and on film videos there is without question (to me anyhow) one of the great innovators and commentators of 21st century music. St Vincent is picking up the musical legacy of artists like David Byrne (whom she has worked with) and David Bowie.
As was expected, every element of this show was a perfectly timed and choreographed performance of music, light, colour, sound, and to some songs, film. Some people might find this level of control over an on-stage live performance lacking freedom of expression and the unexpected, but this is St Vincent’s music and vision, and no one element can really ever be separated from the other; everything here is open for interpretation and exploration on more than one level.
There was very little “talk time” at this show from St Vincent, instead simply what the audience came to hear (and often see) – the music, and all the expected songs were here including “Mass Seduction”, “New York”, "Los Ageless", “Digital Witness” and “Fast Slow Disco”. Beneath all of these songs though are some often overlooked lyrics that make very astute commentary of our modern lifestyle and its effects on us as human beings. St Vincent is underneath all of the obvious crowd pleasing music of her songs a very gifted and astute songwriter with the ability to write stories of true heartache and emotion, and “Huey Newton”, “Young Lover” and “Happy Birthday Johnny” are only a few examples of not only that ability, but the wide contrasting nature of her music. St Vincent as a writer, musician and performance artist is long overdue a proper retrospective appraisal of her work.
On stage tonight, and not only an integral part of the sound, but the imagery, Toto Yasuda (guitar and keyboards), an innovative artist and musician in her own right, and Matt Johnson (drums) and Daniel Mintseris (keyboards). Like Toto, both Matt and Daniel (both masked tonight to be part of the overall concept image) are gifted musicians with their own work outside of the band. Not forgetting of course that St Vincent herself is also an innovative guitar player who is always exploring the sound possibilities of that instrument, a side to her work that is often by many overlooked.
From the very few first beats of the very first song, to the very last beats of the last song, St Vincent had this audience in the palm of her hands; they were hers and she knew it, and played the songs and to the audience perfectly.
Review by Tom King
The Playhouse Theatre