Published Aug 12, 2009Anticipation was high for St. Vincent's first Canadian gig since releasing her Exclaim!-approved year-end list contender, Actor. Before the Horseshoe Tavern could get a taste of the Brooklyn songstress, though, Toronto's own Gentleman Reg was selected to warm and rile up the crowd for this viciously sold-out engagement.
Instantly captivating the audience's attention, Reg led his well-oiled and grinning backing band through a rollicking set of songs from his recent Jet Black album. His undeniable charisma had audience members dancing, hollering and a few enthusiasts proclaiming that "Reg needs a TV show documenting his life." Not a bad suggestion.
Resembling a classic screen beauty come to life as a riff-ripping psychedelic guitar goddess, St. Vincent's Annie Clark and her band-mates gave it their all in a well-selected set of fan favourites. After joking about ghosts in the sound system upon the first of many piercing squalls of feedback, Clark and co. jumped directly into the title track from her Marry Me debut. Tastefully harmonized vocal scatting replaced the additional horn lines on the album: one of several clever methods of packing all those parts into five performers.
A string of songs from Actor followed, including awesome renditions of "The Strangers," "Save Me From What I Want," "Actor out of Work" and "The Bed." Clark doesn't shy away from altering some of the notes and meter of her vocal melodies, in some cases to account for the complicated call-and-response approach of her recordings, and other times seemingly out of creative restlessness. Throwing in a cover of the Beatles' Lennon-riff-centric "Dig a Pony" was bold, but she absolutely nailed it.
Dropping her most severely funky and warped songs near the end of the set with "Marrow" and "Now, Now" was a smart piece of set pacing, and saving the radically awesome noise rock make-over mania of "Your Lips Are Red" for a second encore was almost essential; anything else would have been anti-climatic.
Despite the great performance, it was a shame the sound was so erratically balanced and over-the-top loud that it detracted from the overall experience.