Review: St. Vincent + Pattern is Movement @ Pabst Theater (6/7)

Words by Brian Jacobson * Photo by CJ Foeckler

By the time I hit the ticket window of the Pabst Theater for the St. Vincent show, I was already wary of the young hipster elites standing in front of me and the recovering adult hipster elites who got career jobs and families years ago – which quite possibly changes their status to ‘poseur’.

At the first sighting of a boy in skinny, cuffed jeans on spindly legs typically worn by modern Milwaukee bike messengers and his date clad in a vintage hippie dress bought a local ‘vintage’ wear boutique – it was quite clear that this evening was going to be an indie scene, even before the door attendants handed out hot pink flyers for the INDIE IN MKE series the Pabst trio of venues is touting.

There is, of course, no need to call it ‘indie” music at these three particular venues anymore. The advent of the internet and radio stations like populist-promoting 88.9 Radio Milwaukee has changed the game so significantly that all the kids are swimming in the same pool – which is too bad for talented musician and songwriter Annie Clark, known on stage as St. Vincent, who may deserve a second thought before pigeonholing.

With magical lyrics and music that are dense and rewarding, a romper shorts outfit that starts at the neck line of a black thicket of curly hair and ends in black lace leggings, and a clear voice that cuts through a skein of oil, St. Vincent skillfully tore through a 80-minute set of original material Friday night. It should have been apparent that there would be music geeks and apprentice hipsters who would eschew their $10 general admission seat to stand against the stage close enough to examine how this crazy machine functions.

After a blistering yet overlong set by Patterns is Movement (need a review? Here’s the Twitter version: Two lapsed band geeks in beards play drum set and keyboard organ in a pastiche of Vangelis meets Kid A while keening over something lost), St. Vincent arrived with a backing band of four who altogether play eight instruments – occasionally at the same time. The songstress employs a two-microphone pole, with one being for straight voice while the other causes a harmonizing variance which at best seemed like she was choir but at worst when the use of the device wore on often sounded discordant like a dying android from Westworld: buut I wwaass mmeeeaaant to loooove youuuu—

St. Vincent immediately launched with her safe eponymous song from the 2007 album, Marry Me before settling into numbers from her newest album, Actor. “The Strangers”, “Save Me from What I Want” and “Laughing with a Mouthful of Blood” were a few new songs that proved not only can live songs can sound better than a technical recording, but they demonstrated a layer of depth to the scoring process of a concept project.

The idea for Actor came about in the most artistic of ways, according to numerous articles and interviews with Pitchfork, Village Voice, and NPR. Clark started to sketch notes for the way they look before committing them to a place on a measure. She watched a lot of movies on mute ranging from “Badlands” to “Sleeping Beauty.”

As a result, dramatic overtures of indie rock clash with woodwinds and often the crunch of a guitar whose driver is careening around the jagged cliffs on a poorly lit night. There is often no crescendo or announcement of an ending. It just ends and the band is forced to look up from their instruments to check on the audience’s pulse.

The crowd of some 300 people who elected to miss RiverSplash on the other side of the Pabst walls would often explode in applause, unsure of what they’ve just felt. If the hipster culture is one in which its members don’t admit to belonging, it’s because there’s general a swipe of vitriol being sent in its direction when really the social stereotype is quite wide. Still, they seemed confused when the presented with a singer who isn’t Cat Power or Feist, yet she ain’t Kate Bush or Karen O.

St. Vincent stares at you straight on with dark eyes that are neither accusatory nor vacant, but demand your rapt attention. Her words touch deep emotional subjects masked by poetic turns. The music she has created is set to the atmosphere of a dramatic weather front approaching. It was enough to cause the cheap PBR Tallboys to drop out of slack-jawed yokel’s hands and spill down the historic theater’s aisles.

The band and St. Vincent finished at the one-hour mark, but immediately returned 30 seconds after departure without the pretense of an encore demand. They ended the evening by basically updating Bolero with the Marry Me album song called “Your Lips are Red”, which climatically continued in volume and dark tension until everyone was spent.

St. Vincent will be appearing at Millenium Park in Chicago, IL on Monday evening and is scheduled to appear on Late Show with David Letterman June 24. Next up in the Pabst series is Starlight Mints on June 10.


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8 Responses to “Review: St. Vincent + Pattern is Movement @ Pabst Theater (6/7)”

  1. Abba Zabba Says:

    Geez, Brian, way to pigeonhole and reduce the performers and the audience to stereotypes – and the latter especially to vacant-eyed, pop-culture tools. Also, (1) the “Twitter” review of PatterN Is Movement -Really? Their performance deserved much more of a mention than that. And, (2) if you Google “two-microphone stand,” your post is the only hit. Just sayin’.

  2. thee pigeonholed, Charles M. Says:

    Most certainly, this review makes it quite obvious that the only person participating in stereotyping is you. The words contained are trite, closed-minded, and presuming.
    The reason people ‘hate’ hipsters (because you’re so certain that the proverbial ‘they’ do) is not because they wear tight pants and have quirky girlfriends. It’s because ‘they’ read angry, accusatory reviews like this and think you, the hipsters, and I are all social postures devoid of sincere individuality.
    And yes, i cede that it is true that Clark’s album was paid for and manufactured by an ‘inde’pendent label. But what does that have to do with anything at all?
    Open up and live a little. Hell, maybe even love a little. But please, for goodness sake, perhaps even for your own well being, stop caring so much about other people and stop assuming what those around you are thinking. Maybe it is only you who is “unsure of what they’ve just felt” or is “confused”? To each his own please, please, oh please…

  3. Tiredgirl Says:

    Hmm…perhaps Mr. Jacobson was simply commenting on the crowd, albeit a little tongue-in-cheek.

    The reason hipsters who don’t think they are hipsters comment on other hipsters is because no one wants to be pigeon-holed, but half the fun of being a hipster is rolling with it, knowing you’re a hipster.

    Have a sense of humor…

  4. Steven Hyden Says:

    I’m just glad that somebody finally made fun of hipsters, because that’s totally not tired at all.

  5. Dave Deerlick Says:

    St. Vincent’s music is terrible and that is the only reason anyone attending this show should be made fun of.

  6. Le Castor Says:

    Since most people I know have never heard of either St Vincent or Annie Clark, I assumed it would be difficult to find a concert review from Friday’s Pabst show. But I came across this one and was left, well, with a bitter taste in my mouth. Honestly, I’ve been to many shows in my life and I was blown away with the freshness of both Pattern is Movement and St. Vincent. I could not have cared less about the hipness level of the people around me–it’s a rock show after all and that stuff comes with the scene.

    Now, I don’t want to disrespect Brian Jacobson; so I’ll just talk about the show. How cool is it that two middle-aged, over-weight guys with beards are opening for an act like St Vincent??? At least Chris didn’t just sit on his throne and play a tired, 4/4 rock beat. And Andrew had a passion for what he was doing. All in all, Pattern is Movement offered a great performance in my opinion. But I could have used a little more volume on the vocal mic.

    As for St Vincent, Annie was stunning and amazed me with her guitar stylings and facial cues. The backing musicians were so much more than band memebers. Collectively, they really brought out the potential of Clark’s songwriting. I’m sorry that when I spin her records at home now I’ll be forever disappointed with the lack of volume and presence of the Pabst show.

    As for the negative comments and stereotype bashing, everyone should just lighten up and enjoy the music. Leave the diatribes for USA Today columnists.

  7. Brian Jacobson Says:

    Tee hee. I actually enjoyed the concert very much (both acts), and was only mildly aware of the crowd during the 40-minute lull between acts. If anything, I was pointing out that I was afraid of the concert experience but was entranced enough with the music to forget anything else. Except for that drunk music geek who kept shouting comments to Ms. Clark between songs.

    I’m happy with all comments made here, even the ones that misread the review. Conversations about music is more than welcome.

    an obviously jealous hipster wannabe.

  8. Barry Says:

    Here’s a tip for you, Bri: If you don’t want people to “miss” the review, as you say, don’t spend the first three paragraphs mocking the crowd. And don’t continue doing it throughout the review. (Unless I’m wrong to assume that terms like “confused” and “slack-jawed yokels” are insulting.)

    Also, you liked Pattern is Movement? (No “S” on that, by the way.) Hmm … that’s kind of hard to tell by the patronizing way you described them. Here’s another writing tip, my man: If you like something, don’t describe it as “Two lapsed band geeks in beards play drum set and keyboard organ in a pastiche of Vangelis meets Kid A while keening over something lost.” Because that doesn’t sound like a compliment. (Maybe because it doesn’t make much sense. Tee hee!)

    People hate hipsters because they’re patronizing and not very smart, right? Pot, kettle …

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