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ST. VINCENT and SWANS at Yonge-Dundas Square, Friday, June 21. Rating: NNNN
No shocker: St. Vincent slayed at Yonge-Dundas Square.
Annie Clark epitomizes professionalism, and the tour for her latest stunner album sees her exaggerate her theatrical side: freaky robotic stage moves and minimalist/futurist outfits (and cornrows at this particular show) meets slickly effortless singing and guitar-soloing. And though she erratically stumbles around the stage as the music crescendos, you know she'll never fall. This woman is steely perfectionism.
All of that also prevents genuine warmth from getting through, and Clark's stabs at expressionistic stage banter ("We have a few things in common: when you were a child you made a hot air balloon from bed sheets and it plummeted to the ground but the reason you're still here and I'm still here is that we didn't give up hope"; plus something about Tim Hortons and burning down your neighbourhood) came off as a bit pretentious.
But there's no denying the thrill that came from experiencing her sharp-edged pop tunes live, with their odd twists, big choruses and even bigger guitar solos. She goes for the gnarliest guitar tones, and they earned her massive applause on Surgeon, Prince Johnny, Huey Newton and Bring Me Your Loves. (The set list was mostly drawn from the last two albums, though Your Lips Are Red from 2007's Marry Me also snuck in there.) She worked herself into a controlled frenzy, lying corpse-like on the stage by the end.
Earlier, Swans were a seething, roiling sonic mass. Two drummers pounded away at hypnotic, anvil-heavy grooves enhanced by percussion, massive-sounding guitars, keys, pedal steels and intermittent vocals by leader Michael Gira. It was an all-encompassing musical beast that grew and grew, leaving a gaping hole when it all subsided that took some getting used to.