Monday, March 01, 2010

Last week Part One - St. Vincent

Playing right now: Nels Cline Singers - Initiate
(Prepping for a review so no observations here.)

Last week was the Week of Music for me. So much so that there was no time for blogging between the music and snow, which hopefully will finally start to subside. I heard it's supposed to be 38 degrees today. Good riddance to bad rubbish and the mindframe in which it put me.


Last Sunday, St. Vincent came to town, playing at Diesel. Pittsburgh ex-pats might not know the venue, but it was once known as Nick's Fat City. With new ownership comes better shows, but it's one of the worst places to try to literally see a band. Worst since Metropol. The visibility is obstructed on either side of the stage by metal girders, with several ceiling lights covered in beads that dangle to the floor. There's a second level so that floor requires there to be a low ceiling above the bar, which is positioned along the wall opposite the stage, cutting off the view further. Upstairs if you're not leaned up against the ledge on either side, looking down at the stage, you can't see squat. There are a few seats in a slightly sunken area, but you have to get there really early to get them. The soundboard takes up most of the area in the sunken section and they don't let people near there.

I got to the show an hour after it started and the place was jam packed. It almost looked sold out. And I knew absolutely no one. (That changed by the end of the night, but I don't want to get ahead of myself.) I stood there wondering, Who the hell are these people? How do they know St. Vincent? They look a little too straight and too old to be college radio fans. Is this what Pitchfork readers look like?

After wondering all this and waiting for someone to play (there were supposed to be three acts), a dude who looked to be about my age or a few years older walked up to me and started chatting me up. Turns out he was from Cleveland and drove down to the show in Columbus the night before, only to find out at the last minute it had been cancelled due to p.a. problems. That explained it. Much like some of the big name Warhol shows, it seemed like this show had drawn a lot of out-of-towners. Makes sense. Don't judge our music scene by this club, brothers and sisters.

St. Vincent came on at about 8:30, just half an hour after I got there. So my timing was good. I like St. Vincent (I guess I should call it a band, as opposed to "she" since Annie Clark isn't the sole member anymore; at least not on this night) in part because the songs don't really sound like anything else I've heard, although there are touchstones, unusual and normal in a lot of the music. They play the kind of music that I'd throw under my favorite catch-all phrase: mutant pop. On the odd side, at least two songs at Diesel had melodies that really reminded me of the verse of Carly Simon's "That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be." Annie, if you're ready this, that isn't necessarily a slam.

Everything written about St. Vincent talks about the challenge of taking songs that were created in the studio and trying to recreate them live. And it's a valid issue. She had a five-piece band, including her: drums, bass, guitar/violin, keyboards/sax/flute, plus her guitar. The drummer looked like he was playing synth drums or triggers on a couple songs, and switching to the kit when things kicked in. And several times it was hard to tell who was doing what, or if anyone was actually doing the strange sound in question or if it was generated by a sample.

That always keeps things interesting but it also seemed to keep the songs from breathing a little more. There's no reason that she couldn't have allowed the band to sound more like a band playing the songs, as opposed to a recreation of the record.

This is not to say I didn't enjoy her set. For one thing, it reminded me of how much I still need to explore her albums. (I bought her debut Marry Me that night.) Clark is clearly a really good guitar player too. She seemed to spend half the set playing around of above the twelfth fret, looking like she has plenty of technique that she can draw on when needed. A couple times she cut loose with some great guitar noise too.

A few songs toward the end of the night, I saw my friends Peter and Jess, both from work. Turns out they had been there the whole time. A few days later, another work friends said he had been there too. I never would've known.

Music Week continued on Monday when I finally was able to get a copy of Vijay Iyer's Historicity which I've been passively coveting for a couple months, and the Magnetic Fields' Realism. The latter album wasn't listened to until today. It took me a few days to get through Vijay too. But I'll explain that in the next post.

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