On Saturday night St. Vincent performed the live debut of her latest record, Masseduction (out Friday, October 13th) marking the launch of her Fear The Future tour.
Described as a visual performance, guests encountered a completely immersive experience. Presented by the Red Bull Music Academy Festival Los Angeles, and held at the the New York Street Backlot of Paramount Studios in Hollywood, the setting made for a perfectly ironic amalgam of the two coastal cities, and St. Vincent’s lead singles off Masseduction, “New York” and “Los Ageless.”
Guests sat socializing on the stoops of replicated Brooklyn brownstones while they waited for the show to begin, but the stage had already been set in more ways than one. A soft neon hue blanketed the lot as the tops of windows glowed orange, pink, red and purple. ‘Store fronts’ with neon signs flashed as clouds from smoke machines wafted up from behind. On one corner a sign read ‘Fortune Teller.’ It seemed to propose an unspoken challenge, do you ‘Fear The Future’ or do you dare to uncover what lies ahead?
Finally it was time for the main event. Curtains drawn, the music started and St. Vincent’s voice rang out with three simple, recognizable words, “Marry me, John, Marry me, John.” A little gap opened with just enough space for St. Vincent to peak out from the curtain, as she performed the rest of “Marry Me.” As she led into the next couple songs, the curtain gradually drew back to reveal the entire stage and St. Vincent clad in hot pink latex thigh high boots, a pink strapless leotard, and puffy pink sleeves.
This time the neon glow shown a little brighter as the stage was drenched with one hue after the other. St Vincent’s guitars spanned the rainbow as well, and every few songs song the singer switching out her guitar for a different bright color (pink, purple, blue, orange, yellow). Throughout the performance she seemed to morph into various personas, at times stiff, stone-faced and robotic in her movements when playing some of her more ominous anthems like “Digital Witness,” to a pliable, hair-flipping virtuoso as she shredded one of her many guitar solos.
But then there were moments where she was soft and vulnerable. One of the few gentler moments of the set came when St. Vincent performed “Strange Mercy.” Lying on the ground she serenaded the crowd as her voice rang out across the lot, growing in intensity towards the end as she sang, “If I ever meet the dirty policeman who roughed you up / No I, I don’t know what / If I ever meet the dirty policeman who roughed you up.” Upon finishing the song she immediately snapped back into action with “Digital Witness,” “Rattlesnake” and Birth In Reverse.”
St. Vincent performed for nearly two hours. The first hour consisted of notable hits from the singer’s first four albums all slightly reworked to complement the soundscape on Masseduction.
For the second half of the night, St. Vincent debuted her new album Masseduction from front to back as visuals from the “New York” and “Los Ageless” videos were projected in the background. To further mark the shift, St. Vincent changed into a metallic silver mini-dress and neon blue sleeves.
Masseduction showcases St. Vincent experiencing her own learning curve, as she wrestles with love and heartache. There’s romantic love for broken relationships, friendships that have fallen apart, and loved ones lost to vices (“Pills”) or time (“Happy Birthday Johnny”). A frustration and longing rings out on these songs as she searches for answers and understanding. It seems she’s educating herself, on herself. On the title track there’s a bit of an inner dialogue (and perhaps inner struggle?) as she sings, “I can’t turn off what turns me on / I don’t turn off what turns me on.”
Though “Los Ageless” sums it up best when she whispers,
“I guess that’s just me, honey, I guess that’s how I’m built
I try to tell you I love you and it comes out all sick
I guess that’s just me, honey, I guess that’s how I’m built
I try to write you a love song but it comes out a lament”
Before launching into the song Saturday night, St. Vincent addressed the audience and said, “this one’s for you guys” as a small smile escaped her.
There’s a lot of layers to peel away from St. Vincent. She’s a performance artist, a musician, and also a person who sometimes gets her heart broken. For her fifth album, she chose to navigate the emotions the way she does best, with sharp irony and bold gestures, but this time everything is turned up to eleven. There’s no band, just St. Vincent, her guitar, and the colorfully curious visual display that flanks her narrow frame. Though trust there’s quite a team behind the scenes to bring this technicolor display to fruition, most notably Jack Antonoff who co-produced Masseduction and and multi-disciplinary designer and director Willo Perron (Kanye West, Rihanna, the XX).
Masseduction does just that. It seduces with its sharp guitar riffs, catchy hooks, clever songwriting, and delicate moments in between. It’s the ongoing evolution of St. Vincent and I, for one, look forward to watching as it continues to unfold with one slight edit: fear the present, manifest the future.
01 Hang On Me
05 Los Ageless
06 Happy Birthday Johnny
08 New York
09 Fear The Future
10 Young Lover
11a Slow Disco Interlude
11b Slow Disco
12 Smoking Section