Thanks to Nederlander Concerts, a few thousand fortunate live music fans were treated to an intimate concert at the beautiful Vina Robles Amphitheatre on September 22nd. St. Vincent and Spoon brought a blistering double bill of guitar-drenched rock to the mountain fringed venue just three days before their sold-out appearance in front of 18,000 fans at the Hollywood Bowl.
Spoon opened the show as a brilliant sunset painted the crystal-clear sky in an orange glow. The Austin Indie rockers have been playing their own brand of feedback-tinged experimental rock since 1993 and have honed their skills as veteran rockers over the years. The band has gone through changes over the decades that they have been together. The current iteration of the group features two original members, singer-guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno. The current band also features Alex Fischel on keyboards and fuzzed-out electric guitar riffs, Gerardo Larios alternating from keyboards and guitar, and Ben Trokan on keyboards and bass. The energetic band tore through a complete set of 14 mostly original tunes, including their hits like “Do You” and “The Underdog.” The group did play one cover that may have been the highlight of their set for many in the crowd. Lead singer Daniel introduced a song “by your favorite Beatle,” which turned out to be the dynamic and timeless “Isolation” by John Lennon. Guitarist-keyboardist Alex Fischel opened the melancholy song on the piano with an impressive reinterpretation before being joined by Daniel leading the rest of the band with exquisite vocals.
St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) later took the stage with a starry sky as a backdrop to their impressive stage, which looked more like a Broadway playset than a concert stage. St Vincent presented her “Daddy’s Home” concert much like a theater production, complete with stand-up comedy sketches and dance routines. The 20-song set included a four-song encore for an intimate crowd. Clark is a mercurial figure in every sense of the word, from her persona to her music, a fact reinforced by how the concert began. The show started with a ruse.
The band strolled on stage, and St. Vincent joined the backup singers in a chorus line, much to the delight of the roaring crowd. But the audience was in for a surprise when it was quickly revealed that the woman the fans have been applauding for was a body double, and the genuine St. Vincent was revealed on a rotating platform behind the band. To further the point, this moment of confusion was paired with the opening song “Digital Witness,” from her 2015 self-titled album that deals with the voyeurism of social media and the admiration we seek from our “audiences.” Daddy’s Home may be her most personal and album yet, centering around a 1970s New York backdrop. The band was nothing short of phenomenal. Often referred to as the “Down and Out Downtown Band,” it was led by the funkmaster Justin Meldal-Johnsen on bass and also featured Jason Falkner on feedback-drenched guitar, Rachel Eckroth on keys, and Mark Guiliana on thundering drums. Meldal-Johnsen’s role as musical director was a perfect fit for the retro-funk grooves on “Daddy’s Home,” given his rich history of producing and performing with Beck. His funk-laden style permeated songs like “Pay Your Way In Pain” and “…At The Holiday Party.”
Clark herself led a multitude of musical mood changes playing multiple instruments throughout the show. During the first song, “Digital Witness,” Clark played the theremin, creating a moody science fiction feel to the opening. Clark also played her signature St. Vincent guitar from Ernie Ball, switching colors to match the moods of different songs. Clark herself designed the guitar. The fifth song featured the title song from the new album, “Daddy’s Home.” The backup singers stood on a spinning platform with a mirror behind it, creating an illusion as the mirror moved back and forth, showing off the sumptuous singers from the front and the rear. Clark also played pedal steel guitar on songs like “…At The Holiday Party” and “Pay Your Way in Pain.”
During the eighth song of the set, a comedy routine prefaced the music. Before the band began “Los Ageless,” a retro telephone rang and was brought on stage for Clark. She pretended to be talking to a friend and explained that she was performing at Vina Robles Amphitheater. The friend didn’t believe her until Clark asked the audience to cheer wildly. The audience acquiesced, and then the band broke into an intense version of the song featuring a mix of heavy distortion and haunting vocals. By the time Clark and the band tore through a four-song encore, both the band and the audience seemed emotionally drained and satiated at the same time.