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LIVE: St. Vincent – SWX, Bristol, 31/05/2024

If you know anything about Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, you probably know she has a reputation for being one of the pre-eminent forces on the current international live music scene. Each of her previous world tours has been an expertly crafted and themed piece of theatre, yet never overshadowing her raw talent as a musician. She is widely considered to be one of the best guitarists of the 21st century.

In light of this it’s hard not to be excited heading to Bristol’s SWX for the first show of the European leg of St. Vincent’s 2024 All Born Screaming tour. Used to filling huge venues like Hollywood Bowl and tonight’s show at the 1800-capacity SWX being sandwiched between dates at San Francisco’s Masonic Auditorium and The Royal Albert Hall, I know that tonight is going to feel positively intimate in comparison.

SWX is, unsurprisingly, sold out tonight. The venue’s layout hasn’t changed since its past life as Odyssey (a cavernous city-centre nightclub, previously holding the title of Bristol’s best-known MD20/20-fuelled meatmarket). As SWX is standing room only in the main room and mostly on one level it’s not that easy to get a great view of the stage unless you get there early. I arrive a good half-hour before support act Heartworms are due on stage to secure a half-decent spot, but legions of die-hard St. Vincent fans have already claimed their places and are not budging one inch. I watch Heartworms’ 80’s guitar-shredding, goth and game-console-synth-driven set delivered with serious aplomb from the side of the stage pretty much balancing on my tiptoes, so after they finish I take my cricked neck down into the tightly-packed crowd, saying goodbye to any chance of nipping to the toilet or bar for the rest of the night.

But this is all forgotten once the lights go down and St. Vincent appears on the darkened stage through a cloud of dry ice. In a comparatively simple outfit of crisp white shirt and black mini-skirt – which reflects the monochrome aesthetics of her new album All Born Screaming (no haute couture confections or bubblegum-pink 50’s diner waitress outfits this time) – it’s immediately clear that St. Vincent does not need theatrics or multiple outfit changes to own the room; her arresting stage presence is enough alone. Pausing only to spit her gum into the audience, provoking a wave of palpable rapture throughout the crowd, she opens with ‘Reckless’ , the second track from All Born Screaming.

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The first four tracks are delivered under the same stark monochrome lighting, which serves to highlight the precision-tooled musical production and raw talent of not just St. Vincent but every musician on the stage tonight. She makes early drops of two of her biggest hits ‘Los Ageless‘ and ‘Big Time Nothing’, both of which the adoring crowd go wild for, before 2009’s ‘Marrow’ ushers in a more dance-driven beat, seeping red visuals and a whole heap of raw sexuality as she lets rip on a pure white version of her beloved self-designed, self-named St. Vincent guitar (seriously, I think most of the audience wish they were that guitar tonight, me included). In fact, one of the most gripping elements of watching St. Vincent live is the raw sexuality of her stage presence, without ever seeming to be trying-too-hard ‘sexy’.

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As the set unfolds she effortlessly segues between two equally engaging personas. The first is that of controlled, smiling cool, and chatty geniality – this is evident in the obviously genuine pleasure the whole band take in being on stage with Annie, when she performs with clarity and precision, a sense her full vocal range and power being gently curbed, and when she is charming everyone in the room when she pauses the set to pay homage to the rich musical heritage of Bristol, proclaiming “seriously, there’s something in the fucking water in Bristol, and I fucking appreciate it“. The second is a raw, feral energy which builds up and briefly ebbs back again until by the time she launches into ‘Broken Man’ eleven tracks in she is fully at the audience’s level of sweat-soaked, lipstick-smudged intensity, seemingly locking eyes with everyone in the audience as her gaze sweeps the venue and she demands answers from each and every one of us to “What are you looking at? Who the hell do you think I am? ” The set then reaches full-intensity with ‘Krokodil‘ – a snarling, stumbling, crowd-surfing, guitar-fucking, cunniligus-simulating slice of theatre which climaxes with crashing guitar feedback and the stage being plunged into darkness.

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At just the point I start wondering if Annie has actually collapsed out of sight in a tangle of wires under the weight of the orchestrated chaos of the last fifteen minutes, the flawless, skilled, creative St. Vincent is back, cool and collected in her natural habitat frontstage bathed in warm light leading the audience by the hand through the last half an hour of the set towards its finish with a purely joyous ‘Sugarboy‘ and a sprawling, mulitfaceted version of ‘We All Die Screaming‘, via uplifting, heartfelt greats like ‘Candy Darling’ and ‘New York‘, throughout which the whole audience eats from her capable hands.

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The set ends abruptly with no encore, but its abruptness, even if it leaves me feeling it was a little rushed, does not leave me or any of the audience unsatisfied. It’s been enough to be able to say I’ve had my first in-person confirmation (or in many of the audience’s case the second, third or fourth) that the hype is real – seeing St. Vincent play live really is something we should all experience at least once.

Photos: Gay Darke


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.