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St. Vincent marries beautiful and strange

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St. Vincent performs at The Burton Cummings Theatre.

St. Vincent wants all of your mind. Nay, she demands it. Commands it.

No, really. "Please refrain from digitally capturing your experience," a robotic recording reminded concertgoers before the avant-pop experimentalist known as Annie Clark took the stage to blow some minds wide open at the Burton Cummings Theatre Sunday night, closing out the 2014 Winnipeg International Jazz Festival.

Well, she certainly wasn't in any danger of losing anyone to iPhone screens. It's hard not to be taken with Clark. She's an endlessly compelling presence -- whether she's a voguing robot or a long-limbed marionette. She's got one of those sly half-smiles that makes you feel like you're both in on a private joke. She's both a performance artist and a nimble-fingered guitar virtuoso, as evidenced by the blistering, fuzzed-out solo that capped show opener Rattlesnake, off this year's landmark self-titled album. The bossy stomp of the social-media-skewering single Digital Witness and Cruel, off 2011's Strange Mercy, followed, setting the breathtaking pace for the night to follow.

Clark is an incredibly poised vocalist; both Every Tear Disappears and the massive Year of the Tiger were master classes in control. Her face is a calm pool of water as she shreds on her guitar.

Indeed, a St. Vincent show is a study in contrasts. Her vocal delivery is both warm and austere. Few can combine the calculated precision of an arena pop spectacle with the spontaneity of an indie rock club gig. But perhaps the most captivating thing about St. Vincent -- both onstage and on record -- is her ability to marry the beautiful and the strange, the siren vocals coupled the discordant feedback squalls on Surgeon being just one example.

And sometimes, it's just beautiful. When she sang the chorus of Cheerleader -- "But I-I-I-I-I don't wanna be your cheerleader no more" -- each "I" was a punch to the heart amid a tidal wave of guitar. She transformed into a skittering robot for the funk-stomper Marrow.

Clark and moog/guitar player Toko Yasuda did the freaky stop-motion doll routine they did on Saturday Night Live for Birth in Reverse, which contains another monster Clark solo. Pity the person who forgot earplugs; with Yasuda, Daniel Mintseris (keys) and Matthew Johnson (drums) providing the backbone, St. Vincent was a force of nature -- especially on the punishing Huey Newton, or Bring Me Your Loves, on which she makes her guitar sing like a power drill.

She slowed things down for the gorgeous Strange Mercy, during which we were reminded of what a powerful lyricist she is. That tenderness was promptly ditched in favour of the freak out Your Lips Are Red, off her 2007 debut Marry Me -- a churning sea of dissonance with mammoth, cavernous drums that closed the show on a stunning high.

Yes, St. Vincent: You had all of our minds. And ears. And hearts. And guts.

Toronto's Digits -- a.k.a. electronic artist Alt Altman, accompanied live by keyboardist Dan Miller -- kicked things off with a tight set of throbbing, U.K.-indebted synthpop tunes. While Altman's vocals often recalled those of Pet Shop Boys innovator Neil Tennant, he only winks at the '80s; unlike other post-punk acts of the last decade, Digits eschews angular synths in favour of rounded, atmospheric textures. Richly layered and moody, Digits makes music you can dance to -- but better yet, they make music you can get lost in.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2014 D3


Updated on Monday, June 23, 2014 at 8:34 AM CDT: Changes photos, changes headline

10:18 AM: Adds slideshow

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