St. Vincent

Mark this day: 24th of February 2014. No, not because it is my niece 4th birthday and my auntie 80th. That’s important to me, not to this blog.

This day is going to be important for St. Vincent.
The album is called St. Vincent. Her real name is Annie Erin Clarke but her stage name is, like the album, St. Vincent.
It is her 5th record and it is out right now.

It is the first LP after she departed 4AD, released with Loma Vista/Republic.
It is the first after the collaboration with David Byrne, Love this Giant, which I never loved and managed to go beyond one of the worst covers of all times.

I don’t know the details of the label change but, seen from the 4AD perspective, losing St. Vincent at this time of her career it is not a good thing.

As things go, she just played a European tour in advance of the album release which ended up in this sold out concert I photographed at Shepherds Bush Empire in London last thursday.
Annie is now back to USA to promote the record with several US dates in the next months and will be back for a bigger tour and summer festivals dates in May and June.
It’s indie-rock schedule, before and after the album there is hard touring going on. It’s where most of the money are. Or… (come to this later, bear with me)

The only other time I photographed St. Vincent it was in this same place which is also one of my favourite theatre to photograph Music in London. If it wasn’t for the ridiculous restriction of the security I’ll be here much more.

She was singing her debut album, Marry Me, in a support slot for The National at the end of November 2007. At those time I posted photos of Matt Berninger and Dessner and Devendorf brother on this little blog, but I totally forgot this tiny girl until checking my whole archive I realised I have already shot her. Had to go back to Spotify to check where and when.

Good occasion to switch on my scanner and go back to some 35mm delight for this very occasion to bring you some of these vintage ones of a shy, less curly, small girl with a hat.

St. Vincent debut was out for just 2 months at that time. Very few people have heard of this Texan girl moved to New York to break through the indie scene. The album will sell thousands, will be reviewed by everyone and paved her path to stardom, just not yet.

In 2009 her second album Actor came out. At that time I must have forgotten her, because I don’t remember asking for a photopass for the tour, neither willing to go. The album got Best New Music at Pitchfork, nowadays what you need to be in the empire of indie-stars.

In 2011 Strange Mercy came out and I couldn’t miss this. To me still her best record. The balance between electronica and fuzzy analogic guitar reach the apex in some incredible songs. The first half of the album is majestic, some songs are so catchy I find myself singing Cruel, Cheerleader without knowing what I was singing. Surgeon has so much depth in it.

I remember the tour and remember being gutted not being able to cover these shows, especially when I saw some incredible pics. Annie Clarke is known to be great live and also to use bright white lights which is not something you get often.

With a progression of 8.0, 8.5 and 9.0 at Pitchfork there is not much to say except that raising the bar so high, so quickly will have lead to expectations being hard to satisfy. There are two ways.

First solution St. Vincent attempted, was (to me) the easy way and the wrong choice: To recruit a legend as David Byrne of Talking Heads (and everything else). Surely this generated a huge press coverage that made the breaking news on all music channels. Unfortunately (expectations at this point became even higher) and the music within the album cannot cope. It seems to stop in the middle between Byrne eclecticism and Annie indie-nerdiness and never find to mature.
Reviewers agree with me, the album is not very well received and going from 9 to 5.9 is almost unprecedented to a Pitchfork ‘Best New Music’ Artist. It was a loud message. (Note, I keep mentioning the Chicago site as a reference because everyone else usually matches to the trend they set, especially about US artists).

Back on the hard road, the other solution was to change direction. It’s risky, it’s difficult. If it works it pays back.
There are few artists that can do this. You need a fan base that is open-minded to follow (checked) and you need, of course, the skills to write good music and perceive the new trend (checked).

David Bowie, Radiohead, PJ Harvey? The ones who managed to reinvent themselves in a credible way are part of rock history.
There are many that dramatically disappeared for failing a direction change (Twilight Sad, Glasvegas) and when they U turn again trying to redo what they were good at fans are long gone. Indie-rock audience is unforgiving.

St. Vincent isn’t the case. She did it right. Her new album is a great record, bold but sincere. It had the first 5stars given by DIY and, most important, resurrects to 8.6 and Best New Music for the third time in a row at Pitchfork. This is what she needed. So now, what did she change?

Everything. And I was unprepared.
I expected an indie guitarist, shy, nerdy, using her guitar to separate from the audience. None of this.

I forgot to have seen her live first time. I will not forget this Shepherds Bush Empire show ever.
There is the same throne on stage that is on the cover of the new album. She steps to play guitar on it, the Prince‘s way.

I just bought the indierock.photography domain for this little blog and the first concert I upload on here is a proper popstar in the making. Weird.
St. Vincent new music, but mostly the new look she shows-off at this gig is a pop concert, as you’d expect for a proper pop star at a proper pop arena. Sure this is where she is going.

She wears the same short dress at all shows, either black or white (as PJ Harvey did latest tour, I got it black) with a melting heart on the front.
From the album cover to the photopass sticker she has white dyed hair on a light blue background. She plays a black guitar on stage. It is plenty of strong lights as a pop show demands and she pours attitude from all pores.

Annie is sexy and she knows that to break into pop music sex is, sadly or not as you want to see it, an essential ingredient as black pepper in proper carbonara.
Self-confidence and seductive not shy, introspective sex-appeal.

Timidity doesn’t work here, as fresh cream doesn’t work in a carbonara, you have to be able to mix simple ingredients without the help of cream. It will be creamy anyway if you do it properly.

St. Vincent mixes it up without the use of anything simpler than great new songs (plus many from Strange Mercy), a renewed self-confident attitude, a stunning look and, as salt and pepper, a band that is so good to be present but never intrusive.

I realised looking at the photos of the 2 songs we were allowed to cover, I have almost no frames of the band. There is a drummer on the back a keyboardist guitarist on the front right and another on the background. They are essential but they only complement St. Vincent playing.

She is a great singer but I realised also how good she is as a guitarist. Her six strings produce a wonderful sound and she is a skilled player confirming US artists give to technicality more attention than British.
She enjoys some solos and shows them off which is part of the I-am-a-popstar-now news. Prince is in town, you never know.

All things converge to the conclusion that this 24th of February is going to be a date St. Vincent and her fans will remember.
I saw her twice at Shepherds Bush Empire but I doubt its capacity would be enough to contain the fans in the future. Surely the aim is to biggest venue, larger crowds, fans all over the world.

She deserved it. This is not a one hit wonder, it’s 5 full albums crafted to perfection bit by bit, being brave to change directions, anticipate the trends, indicate the path to the many artists to follow.

It is St. Vincent year and if you still haven’t discovered how good she is, it’s time to immerse yourself in a perfect recipe of pop and indie music. Her website says it all ILoveStVincent.com you better do too: [Website][Spotify][facebook][twitter]

Photo tip

I have been several times to Shepherds Bush Empire, I talked about the advantages of low stage venues, St. Vincent matured as a musician, I surely matured as a concert photographer, the venue never relaxed their strict policy, one of the very few medium size venues that, to be allowed back in after the photos, wants  all photographers to leave the camera bag, to have a valid ticket and to walk down the street from the stage door than back in from the front. At least a couple of songs are missed.

The only time this didn’t happened, believe me, it was for Katy Perry. Yes, I managed to take photos and stay to watch the show with my camera bag simply walking from the pit to the stalls.

Living in Cambridge this policy is one of the reasons why I turn down several photo passes when they don’t come with a ticket. Sadly.
It’s a long way trip for 10 minutes of music. Thankfully this time a journalist friend had a plus one so I stayed to view and review this show.

For concerts Shepherds Bush is my London favourite venue after Koko. It has several balcony levels, it has the red baroqueness of London Theatres. It doesn’t have the Apollo or Brixton Academy shell-shaped floor but towards the back it is elevated and allows to watch the show if you don’t want to join the party in the front.

Photography wise the low stage and usually good lights deliver good images. Some of the photos here were shot ad ISO 320 or 500 f2.8 1/250s but be careful if you are going to photograph St. Vincent because there is a huge difference between the strong lights on her face and the rest. Matrix measurement failed a few times giving me some shots where her face is too overexposed to be usable. Also when the strong lights go away it’s very dark.

I strongly suggest measuring spot on her face for this, be very careful your spot point is on the face or on a bright area, though. I also set the auto ISO in these conditions with a favourite at 800 and upper at 6400.
The two songs are short and the time she spends away from the microphone is much shorter. Few seconds for a short dance intro before the first song and about 30 seconds for a guitar solo at the end of it. I couldn’t bother to deal with ISO/Aperture and Shutter in 5 minutes.

The rest of the time she sings in front of the mic pole with no opportunity. When all photographers are off, she starts her proper pop show off, more lights on, climbs staircase, lays down, plays guitar.
No, I’m not going to ask why not allowing to cover a whole gig again. No I am not.

~ by Valerio on February 24, 2014.

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