Review: St. Vincent’s new album is brilliant. But what about her concert to unveil it?
“This one’s for you guys,” St. Vincent said with a knowing little laugh. She was standing on what looked like a New York City street, but her audience consisted of several thousand Angelenos — folks she could be sure would get the joke in the title of her song “Los Ageless,” about a place of ambition and vanity where “the mothers milk their young.”
A sleek yet thudding piece of vacuum-sealed funk, “Los Ageless” comes from “Masseduction,” the fifth solo album by the Grammy-winning singer and guitarist who was born Annie Clark and who has over the last decade established herself as one of pop’s smartest, craftiest young artists.
On Saturday night, St. Vincent played the album, due Friday, from beginning to end on a large stage set up on the New York back lot at Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood.
Titled “Fear the Future” after a cut on the record — and presented as part of Red Bull Music Academy, a month-long series of cultural events put on by the energy drink maker — the concert was no doubt a feat to pull off. (Maybe the Teamsters are fans.)
But its scale was in keeping with “Masseduction’s” elaborate rollout, which has also included a fake news conference on Facebook, videos scripted by actor-musician Carrie Brownstein and an in-depth New Yorker profile for which the magazine’s writer appears to have spent more time with St. Vincent than some parents do with their children.
As it happens, the album justifies all the trouble St. Vincent is going to.
Co-produced by Jack Antonoff, known for his work with Taylor Swift and Lorde, it’s easily her best record yet, with deep thoughts on drugs, romance, loneliness — and, yes, L.A.’s obsession with youth — set against sticky, vivid arrangements that twist Top 40 pop conventions into weird new shapes.
The singer made a portion of the record here, calling in cameos from local luminaries, including indie-rock veteran Jenny Lewis, saxophonist Kamasi Washington and Sounwave, the producer who’s created some of Kendrick Lamar’s most distinctive beats.
Yet “Masseduction” also reflects Clark’s life in New York; its lead single, a gorgeous and moving piano ballad called “New York,” features scenes set on 1st and 8th Avenues and is thought to have been inspired in part by the death of David Bowie, a longtime fixture of the city.
So you can understand why the idea of Saturday’s show — a kind of surreal overlaying of her two homes — appealed to St. Vincent.
Unfortunately, the performance itself didn’t quite deliver on that promise.
Standing onstage by herself (but evidently backed by musicians hidden from view), St. Vincent sounded great as she moved through the new record; her singing and guitar playing were pinpoint precise yet full of emotion, especially in the darkly cheerful “Pills” and “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” as tender a song as she’s released.
As usual, she made a strong visual impression too in a hot-pink strapless leotard and thigh-high boots.
But the concert’s static staging — she basically performed in front of a series of curtains and video screens, the latter flashing images related to show business and plastic surgery — made little specific use of the unique setting; she could’ve done this anywhere (and indeed she may, once her tour starts behind “Masseduction”).
Why, then, had she endured the inconvenience of this location to play these songs live for the first time before a large audience?
A primary preoccupation of St. Vincent’s is the increasingly blurred line that separates authenticity from artifice. Here, for instance, as she sang “Marry Me” — one of a handful of old tunes she did in addition to the new album — she was satirizing the notion of the doe-eyed ingénue at the same time that she was embodying it.
Was it too much to expect that she find ways to take advantage of the Paramount space — a simulacrum of the city in which she recently experienced real pain — to more fully draw out (or contradict) the complex themes in her latest music?
“Masseduction” suggests she would’ve been up to the task.
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