St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

Strange Mercy
Year :
Fiona Apple / Sufjan Stevens / Emily Haines

Music is a passion of mine, which I would hope is obvious since we’re hanging out in this venue together. As such, some of the best moments in my life have happened at live shows. We will assuredly talk all about it over time, but it’s on my mind this weekend, having snagged a couple amazing tickets. It’s easy, though, to have a magic moment seeing one of your favorite bands, being surrounded by fellow fans, hanging out with friends…music is personal. That’s what we’re all about here, so we all know that the connection to music is different when you’re a part of it. What’s rarer is that moment when you see that personal moment in the band itself.

I’ve seen Annie Clark, the woman behind the moniker St. Vincent, a number of times now. I could wax poetic about her at length. She is an incredibly intellectual composer and a deadly guitarist. Her albums continue to grow and evolve. Her live show is unpredictable. One gets a feeling that she truly feels the music, and gets lost in it. As such, it has been exciting to share those moments with people as often as I have. I’ve been lucky enough to be there when my friends were first blown away by her opening for Andrew Bird. My first time seeing her was with a close friend visiting the area. My most recent local show allowed me to introduce her to another friend through the power of having too many tickets. I was even lucky enough to see her when I was living in Italy, at a show in Milano. The woman’s music is clearly important to me, but I’ve also been lucky to spend moments which were important to me surrounded by her music.

Seeing someone a few times, however, you start to see what carries over and what changes. Where in earlier shows it seemed to be about a bodily catharsis through music, later shows felt more emotional. Strange Mercy is supposedly a much more personal album, so it makes sense to feel a bit more vulnerability in the performance and the songs themselves. What I didn’t expect, however, happened during the title track. I think I was primed for it during the spacey, subaquatic guitar interlude. Live, it surrounds the listener, and the coolness of the sound is both refreshing and just a bit tense. It felt as though I was alone in a bubble of that tone. It wasn’t about me, though. As the song reached its climax, there was, for a moment, a different woman on stage. There was a moment where whatever inspired the song came back, and I could tell it hurt, that it was something major for her. The stammered “I… I don’t know what…” rang with a certain fear. It was chilling and beautiful. I couldn’t articulate the meaning of the song in words, but at that moment I felt I knew every ounce of the feeling. Quite honestly, I’d be afraid to hear the true inspiration after that moment. It almost felt like I was let in on a terrible, intimate secret. It was enough to turn a good song into one that freezes me in my tracks.

We sometimes talk about authenticity when it comes to great music. It’s a hard thing to be sure of, which is why an artist who even sounds earnest can be so meaningful to find. I have never seen an artist have a moment on stage that felt more honest and fragile, more purely indicative of exactly what they felt in composing the song. We can attach meanings to songs all we want, but it is possible that no other song will ever make me feel so close to its creator as that performance did at that moment. It’s a peek behind the curtain, no matter how gut-wrenching the interpretation might feel. That second of intimacy, unintentional as it might be, where a stranger is letting you know their heart… there might not be a deeper meaning to attach to any song.

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Alex Lupica (@Alex_Soundtrack) has been in love with music since he was a toddler, despite its infidelities. (Really, music? Nu-metal? How could you!). Alex is Editor-in-Chief at The Daily Soundtrack.

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