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Black and Mild: St. Vincent @ Metro

By Kim Bellware in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 6, 2011 9:00PM

As a performer, Annie Clark of St. Vincent has left us thrilled in the past. Her latest work is being noted for its angst and aggression, which if not promising is at least intriguing. But glancing in the rearview at last night's sold-out Metro performance, sadly, Clark didn't quite thrill. Worse, she showed that the darkest part of her nearly 90-minute set was…the stage lighting.

Clark's guitar skills are most often described as "virtuosic"--and they certainly are--but Clark the instrumentalist is even more fun because she's a shredder cut from a cloth different than, say, Eddie Van Halen. With all things in St. Vincent's music, her novelty usually saves the day. Her new material even shoves the guitars right out in front to create the screaming, scary effects Clark doesn't make with her own voice. It was a disappointment, then, to have the whole set sound like someone forgot to boost the volume on the axes; Clark's guitar lacked the ripping, manic intensity it had on Strange Mercy.

There was also the issue of Clark insisting on making her guitar sound like anything but a guitar. The smart and creative use of a constellation of effects pedals has its place, but several songs felt like missed opportunities, like when the riffs on "Marrow" sounded like they were played on a harpsichord rather than a Gibson L-6.

We were hoping to hear some of the ferociousness from Strange Mercy's salvo opener "Chloe In the Afternoon," but the effect was only mildly spirited, never quite reaching snappy. "Cruel" fared better, though the fun honking (once again from that ill-used guitar) lost out to Clark's chirpy arias.

"Neutered Fruit" brought out more of the roughness we hoped to hear from Clark, who did get her formula right a few times when she hit notes of angst and frustration. Even if she had started to sound at all petulant in the song, it was an improvement over the creeping boredom she (and we) seemed to be feeling elsewhere in the set.

Full of sullen, wistful malaise, "Champagne Year" stood out as one of the most effective tracks of the evening. And instead of a Big Black cover that fans had been hoping for, Clark's blistering cover of The Pop Group's "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" fulfilled the angry post-punk quota for the performance.

Sadly, unlike earlier shows we've seen, Clark wasn't at her most charming or engaging, and before the mid-point we could already tell things we're going to stay off-kilter. A track we thought she might save for her encore, Clark was blase on perhaps her most recognizable song, "Actor Out of Work." Of course, it happens--musicians simply get sick of performing their biggest hits over and over and those numbers start to feel phoned in. Until the end. At the culmination of the song, Clark finally flipped the dynamic and overpowered the guitars screaming "I THINK I'M FUCKING MAD!"

This angry Annie showed up once, showed up early and never returned for the rest of the show.

Come to think of it, that made us a little mad too.