Undoubtedly she’s electric on record, but a St. Vincent live show is something else—part performance art, part social commentary, all sonic wonder of guitar riffs and electronic sounds unlike anything you’ve heard before, capped with choreography so original you don’t know if it’s comical or avant-garde. Critics have hailed her as the most exciting act to happen to rock music in at least a decade. Comparisons to David Bowie are obvious, if reductive—St. Vincent simply can’t be categorized.
Born Annie Clark in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the 35-year-old musician—who says that she got her stage moniker from a Nick Cave song referencing the Greenwich Village hospital where Dylan Thomas died—had an early interest in music, particularly classic rock, but it was Nirvana’s Nevermind that captured her imagination as a 9-year-old. She picked up the guitar when she was 12 and spent her teenage summers as a roadie on tour for her uncle Tuck Andress, a jazz-guitar virtuoso who performs with his wife, Patti Cathcart, as the duo Tuck & Patti.
Clark attended attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston but dropped out after three years. She was eventually hired on by Sufjan Stevens to join his band on tour and worked on her own music. Her first album, Marry Me, released in 2007, was well-received by critics, drawing comparisons to Kate Bush, and, even at that early stage in her career, to Bowie. Clark released two more albums—Actor in 2009 and Strange Mercy in 2011—but it was her eponymous fourth album in 2014 that put her on the mainstream map. Tracks like “Digital Witness” and “Birth in Reverse” made Clark a critical darling and won her album of the year accolades from several publications and best alternative music album at the Grammy Awards in February of 2015.
St. Vincent’s latest release, Masseduction, released last year, has more pop overtones than her previous albums and unveils yet another iteration for the artist. Kendrick Lamar and Jack Antonoff contributed, and its rollout has been befitting of Clark’s ethos of reinvention and performance art, featuring a multiplatform campaign of staged Instagram interviews scripted by Carrie Brownstein, listening sessions styled as escape room puzzles, a vinyl bright-pink and red aesthetic with fetish boots and catsuits—what Clark calls her “dominatrix at the mental institution” look. But all this is artifice: At the core of Masseduction is a rocker and her guitar, making sounds that defy genre and gender. It’s a coast-to-coast commentary on heartache, loss and modern-day disconnection, from “Los Ageless” to “New York.”
“All human beings create their own mythologies,” Clark told Pitchfork in an interview last year. “And I’m in the somewhat bizarre circumstance of creating a big mythology that gets shared with a lot of people.”
St. Vincent’s mythology is a shape-shifting construct, aided by her chameleonlike ability to be a blank canvas for whatever muse is cool enough to channel her prodigious musical talent. And for music fans, that’s a good thing. Who needs another anodyne rockstar wannabe? Here is the real thing, and she’ll be on Life is Beautiful’s stage come September, bringing whatever she wants to bring. Come be seduced.