RALEIGH – During the early stretch of St. Vincent’s Hopscotch set on City Plaza Friday night, the wind picked up as she threw out volleys of off-kilter guitar skronk. Clouds appeared. And a very large hawk glided overhead to alight on a nearby construction crane, seemingly to watch the spectacle. It was as if the natural elements were just another special effect in St. Vincent’s arsenal of high-tech mechanical soul.
Since breaking through to mainstream popularity this year, the former Annie Clark has become one of the most polarizing figures in popular music – celebrated as a visionary original and attacked as a boring fraud, in about equal measure. There was plenty of social-media chatter from the latter viewpoint in the wake of Friday’s show.
Me, I found her to be one of the most mesmerizing performers I’ve ever seen. She has a highly idiosyncratic approach to guitar sonics, alternating between the sort of cold flickering Robert Fripp made famous with King Crimson and flat-out hammer-of-the-gods wailing. And she used the stage setting as another instrument, spotlighting herself in an array of lighting setups (from blinding strobe to shadowy) as she moved with robotic grace. She truly seemed to be from another galaxy.
“Birth in Reverse,” “Cheerleader” and “Digital Witness” were the high points, but the whole 70 minutes was pretty fantastic. St. Vincent was so good, in fact, that Spoon’s perfectly fine headline set afterward seemed dull and one-dimensional by comparison. It will be interesting to see if she steals the show again in December, when she’ll return to Raleigh to open for Black Keys at PNC Arena. Meantime, check the photo gallery of shots from Friday’s show.
All was not completely fabulous at Hopscotch on Friday, especially Little Black Egg Big Band – an experimental side project made up of the members of Yo La Tengo and friends. Yo La Tengo is one of my favorite bands, but I’m afraid their Egg incarnation’s afternoon set at Kings was…well, “interesting” would be one way to put it. They came out and commenced to making this low, pulsing drone that seemed kind of cool at first before growing progressively less cool as it went on. And on. And on. Without going anywhere at all. I left after 20 minutes, at which point it was obvious that no thrills would be had. Oh well.
Back on the plus side, Friday’s other main highlight was Zack Mexico, a young bunch from the Outer Banks that’s been through some changes since I saw them at Hopscotch 2012. Back then, they sounded like the world’s oddest surf band. This year’s model was more along the lines of MC5, a pulverizing lineup with two drummers and three guitarists all in a race to see who would finish first. And it opened up with the frontman coming onstage, stripping off his clothes, donning a dress and holding a drum aloft to punch a hole in it. Then they started bashing away and it was glorious.