The bill for this late-season night at the Hollywood bowl was attractive, an alt-rock affair via Texas, with Austin’s personal favorite, Spoon, and St Vincent, who grew up in Dallas. Singer, songwriter, rapper Mereba was also opening, and the entire night looked spectacular, but it looked even better when I managed to get a pit ticket via Vividseats a few days before the show, while I had been watching their price fluctuate during the entire week. ‘The best seat in the house,’ told me a Hollywood Bowl employee when he looked at my phone before directing me to the entrance of the pool circle. This is indeed the only way to attend a show at the Bowl, just under Annie Clark’s microphone or Britt Daniel’s acrobatic guitar.
Mereba was a beautiful vision with her sunshine yellow suit, she rapped and sang over various low-key arrangements, sometimes jazzy, sometimes more percussive, that always let her vocals shine. It was a relatively quiet set as she was mixing spoken words with folk music, soulful atmospheres, Southern roots, R&B, and rap with great ease, but above everything, she was a storyteller. She has released her debut studio album ‘The Jungle Is The Only Way Out’ on Interscope Records in 2019 and since she has cited Stevie Wonder as her ‘fairy Godfather’ after meeting him in 2016, her spot in this lineup was making complete sense,
Spoon is always a pleasure to see in concert, they repeatedly play their hits effortlessly with a renewed enthusiasm and formidable energy. Britt Daniel and the band looked very happy to perform at the bowl and fans behind me were singing along. They rocked through the night with passion, pleasing everyone with some of her most catchy songs such as ‘The Way We Get By,’ ‘The Underdog,’ ‘Don’t You Evah,’ ‘Inside Out,’ ‘I Turn My Camera On,’ and they also reinvented a song ‘by our favorite Beatle,’ John Lennon’s introspective ‘Isolation.’ If playing the Hollywood Bowl is not an easy task, because of the immensity of the under-the-stars venue, the five-piece band certainly knew how to occupy the stage: as always, Daniel was restless while Alex Fischel broke a full-body sweat at each song, and I am certain that the people who were occupying the nosebleed seats up could feel the energy, especially when Daniel decided to walk on the wall around the pool circle, waving to the entire crowd of the Bowl.
The Beast and Dragon, Adored
The Way We Get By
My Mathematical Mind
Isolation (John Lennon cover)
Don’t You Evah
I Turn My Camera On
Don’t Make Me a Target
Rent I Pay
St Vincent was undoubtedly the queen of the night, and she put the theatrical in the spectacle like any other. I cannot say I was completely familiar with her entire material, but it didn’t matter. Her show was a mesmerizing experience, high in sounds and colors, a real pleasure for ears and eyes with a ‘70s theme paralleling her last studio album, ‘Daddy’s Home,’ just released this year. It was right away a very funky affair with creative and layered instrumentation and some psychedelic parts, but despite the ‘70s influences and the fashion of her three terrific backup singers, I didn’t get a retro vibe from the music at all. Despite backup singer Nayanna Holley’s big afro and a waitress wearing a yellow uniform dinner and bringing drinks or an old-fashioned phone on stage for Annie to take a call – theatrics were a fun part of the show – I didn’t think for a minute I was aboard a ‘70s nostalgic trip: the music was too badass and fresh for being called nostalgic. Some have even called it futuristic, quite a strange way to characterize a ‘70s-inspired album.
Wearing a red short with a matching jacket and white latex platform high-boots, Annie Clark was shaking her blonde hairdo and making robotic moves – something she may have borrowed from ex-collaborator David Byrne? – in full contrast with the smooth dances of her backup singers. The scenery was lovely and constantly changing, from a ‘70s cartoonish Manhattan cityscape to a green garden or disco lightsabers, thanks to a revolving backdrop.
If St Vincent’s sound is indeed difficult to pinpoint, her style had many moods and her instrumental palette was wide, as she started with a very funky version of ‘Digital Witness’ off her self-titled 2014 album. During 18 songs – seven from her latest ‘Daddy’s Home’ – she brought the bowl into a sonic journey through a savant combination of electric blues, funk, pop, and soul with a ‘70s direction and a psychedelic twist. If some of the compositions could be quite trippy (‘Down’), she had a taste for rewarding chaos and big rocking parts (‘Actor Out of Work’), perfectly executed by her band: Rachel Eckroth on keys, Mark Guiliana on drums but also longtime Beck sidekick Justin Meldal-Johnsen and guitarist Jason Falkner, whom I have also seen on stage with Beck several times.
While the older songs were reworked with a new coat in that same retro gloss as the ones on the new album, ‘Daddy’s Home,’ with its slow quirky groove and background harmonies, really got us into the mood of her last work, thanks to the wah-wah pedals and Annie’s weird and feral scream, in complete contrast with the melodic piano ballad (‘New York’) that followed. The Laurel Canyon vibe of ‘…At the Holiday Party’ was certainly not expected from Annie Clark who is known for her angular guitar moves, but the moment was certainly beautiful.
An imaginary phone conversation with a girlfriend – ‘oh yes, I am on stage at the Hollywood Bowl’ – was a fun interlude in the show to entice the crowd to cheer up, just before ‘Los Ageless,’ delivered in all its guitar glory, and followed by an explosive ‘Sugarboy.’ Back-up harmonies particularly shone during ‘Fast Slow Disco,’ while ‘Pay Your Way in Pain’ and its multi-layered moods and vocals transpired a Bowie glam vibe.
During the high-energy show which barely slowed down for a second, there were many highlights: the dissonant sonic chaos in the middle of ‘Your Lips Are Red’ played during a battle of light tubes or the extraordinary ethereal trip of ‘Live in the Dream’ during which the three backup singers were evolving in slow motion as if they were habiting a Pink Floyd vision.
And just like that, without any encore, St Vincent and her band concluded the show with ‘The Melting of the Sun,’ surrounded by green leaves and flowers in the backdrop and the warmth of a Stevie Wonder’s song.
During the entire show, I had the feeling that every detail, from the fake phone conversation with the girlfriend to the self-deprecating joke, was meticulously thought to fit the message of the album – ‘My Baby Wants a Baby,’ and its melody borrowed from Sheena Easton’s 1980 ‘Morning Train,’ transforms a housewife-in-love tune into an unapologetic declaration of independence from a woman who prefers to play guitar all day rather than raise a child. However, I was only listening to the music.
St Vincent has been called a chameleon because of her ability to reinvent herself, but she is one stylish chameleon with plenty of ambition and all the musical chops you would expect. She is also a storyteller, with an album inspired by real events: her father’s release from prison, blended with Annie Clark’s present-day anxieties and past relationships. However, the St Vincent character never leaves the scene and there is still enough mystery around Clark to make her a true rockstar.
Actor Out of Work
Birth in Reverse
…At the Holiday Party
Fast Slow Disco
Pay Your Way in Pain
My Baby Wants a Baby
Fear the Future
Your Lips Are Red
Live in the Dream
The Melting of the Sun
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Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – January 1983 (Volume 14, Number 8)
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