Show Review: St. Vincent and tUnE-yArDs with Kapowski at The Fox Oakland, 4/24/2012

by Jonathan Pirro on April 25, 2012

The leading ladies of the evening

The leading ladies of the evening

If you asked someone what their favorite record by a female singer in 2011 was, odds are you would have gotten a reply that fit one of two options: 21 by Adele, or Ceremonials by Florence and the Machine. Both topped charts, and the former swept the Grammys, taking home the coveted Album Of The Year award, among others. Sadly, out of the spotlight (and off the radar for many a casual music fan) were a pair of records that rounded out Spinning Platters’ 2nd and 3rd place winners for our Album Picks of 2011, both by extraordinary women who have been captivating audiences all over the country, perhaps even the world, with their otherworldly but gorgeously eclectic brand of experimental indie rock. To pair the two together is a feat in and of itself, as the two have very different backgrounds — both in their own respective songwriting and in their own performing history — but it was, no doubt, an effective combination, as evidenced by the near sold-out crowd that arrived at Oakland’s Fox Theater on Tuesday night. The pair had skipped briefly across the country, even between two weekends at Coachella, and now were coming to the end of their trip: the Oklahoma-born, Manhattan-based Annie Clark, better known by her stage name St. Vincent, and Oakland’s own Merrill Garbus, more well known under the zanily-punctuated pseudonym of tUnE-yArDs.

 

Jesse Rimler and Michael Coleman of Kapowski

Jesse Rimler and Michael Coleman of Kapowski

No doubt in keeping with the spirit of a hometown show for tUnE-yArDs, who were sharing headlining duties with St. Vincent that night, Oakland quartet Kapowski kicked off the night with a delicate but bouncy stab at jangly pop that shimmered with retro stylings and pulsed with a gentle tinkling of dancing synthesizers. Lead singer Jesse Rimler, as well as second keyboardist Michael Coleman, proved to be the least animated members of the band, with bassist Jon Gondo kicking up his feet and shuffling into a steady groove, while drummer Sam Ospovat filled the cavernous space of the Fox Theater with powerful percussive blows. Through the course of the set, the quartet was joined by a trio of horn players, as well as a backup singer, and the additional members shifted in attendance throughout the short but charmingly whimsical set. Likely in preparation for the wild performances that would follow them, Kapowski and their ancillary musicians ended with each member taking up cowbells and other percussive objects to lead the beat of the final number, to pleased and surprised cheers from the rapidly-assembling crowd.

Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs

Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs

Leading up to tonight’s performance, there was some worry that St. Vincent’s presence would overshadow the turnout of tUnE-yArDs fans that evening, but the cataclysmic volley of cheers that greeted Merrill Garbus, when she hurriedly ran onstage and waved excitedly at her onlookers, was positively mindblowing in its intensity. This was the performance, and the venue, that the band had long been overdue to play; as Merrill would note later that evening, tUnE-yArDs’ last performance in Oakland was at the tiny Mama Buzz Café. Far from a feeling of impatience, indifference, or even mild curiosity, the audience seemed overjoyed to welcome their local heroes back home, with most of the floor jumping, dancing, and stomping along to each song of the set. Bathed in the gleaming lights and grinning like a child at Christmas, Merrill kicked off her own set with an improvisational piece, made of a series of haunting loops of her voice. After several minutes of building sounds in ever-growing layers, she welcomed bassist Nate Brenner and the rest of tUnE-yArDs onstage, and the band threw themselves into an explosive performance of “Gangsta”, the second single from their critically-acclaimed sophomore release W H O K I L L.

Nate Brenner and Merrill Garbus

Nate Brenner and Merrill Garbus

Only a few pauses were offered between songs, with many of the numbers bleeding into each other by way of Merrill’s masterful drum loops that she built onstage from the small kit in front of her. Each song was born from the silent ether by way of taps on the snare, smacks on the tom, and above all, Merrill’s screeching, wafting, powerful, and gentle vocal chords, which served as the backing melody for most of her songs. Accompanying Merrill and Nate, who held down a thundering but steady low-end rhythm, were the saxophone duo of Noah Bernstein (alto) and Matt Nelson (tenor), and their wobbling, windy tunes filled the spaces that Merrill and Nate carved out onstage. With the energy and response of the crowd at an all-time high, a jovial and grateful Merrill led their fans to go airborne for the final minutes of “You Yes You” (after some brilliantly energetic dancing during the smash hit “Bizness”), and welcomed a small collection of children onstage to serve as backup dancers for the set ender “My Country”. The tumult of roaring, singing cheers that followed Merrill offstage gave evidence to the fact that a great portion of the audience had, indeed, come to see tUnE-yArDs at their homecoming show, at one of the most gorgeous venues in Oakland — truly a place fit for their triumph.

Annie Clark of St. Vincent

Annie Clark of St. Vincent

While a decent portion of the crowd vacated the theater after the end of tUnE-yArDs’ set, a sizeable audience remained for the two hours that had been given to the dynamite siren who had taken up the task of closing out the evening with a bang — and just shy of the hour of 10:00pm, the musicians that made up the St. Vincent band marched onto the stage to do just that. Rather than appear clad in a potpourri of color and accessories, and absent of a set of unorthodox instruments, St. Vincent was a simple but effective set of keyboards and drums behind the guitar maelstrom that was Annie Clark, who swayed back and forth next to her microphone under a dizzying array of lights that shimmered, pulsed, and swept hurriedly from side to side across the stage. Despite spending most of her set remaining stock-still as she filled the Fox with her delicate, ethereal voice, Annie nonetheless chugged out a snarling, marvelously caustic burst of buzzsaw-sharp, fuzz-heavy guitar riffs, and occasionally snapped out of her statuesque trance to fling herself across the stage, fighting with her guitar and thrashing it about as if it were made of an angry hornet swarm that threatened to attack her. She used these sudden bursts of movement to greet her backing band — drummer Matt Johnson, and keyboardists Daniel Mintseris and Toko Yasuda — who, while hidden in shadow, nonetheless created a stunningly vibrant background of sound that breathed fresh life behind the howling caterwaul of Annie’s churning riffs.

Coming in for a sneak attack

Coming in for a sneak attack

Like Merrill and tUnE-yArDs before her, Annie’s set was mostly occupied by the songs of St. Vincent’s newest record, 2011’s Strange Mercy. Woven in between audience favorites such as “Cruel”, “Cheerleader” and “Surgeon” were a few selections from her sophomore release, Actor, including “Marrow”, which she used to open her set amidst a hail of storming strobes. She told a short anecdote before her penultimate number, a thunderstruck cover of The Pop Group’s “She Is Beyond Good And Evil”, after which she suddenly shed her guitar and leapt into the crowd, writhing precariously atop their hands as she crowdsurfed about, all the while bellowing out a furious performance of “Krokodil”. Annie managed to snake her way back to the stage and beat a hasty retreat, but was gone barely a minute before the band banged out an encore in the form of “Northern Lights”, which saw Annie gesticulating wildly within the antennae of her theremin for the final moments of the night.

You're like a party I heard through a wall

You're like a party I heard through a wall

Tonight’s Fox Theater concert was, for me, a time of long-sought celebration accompanying by the delightful rush of a new discovery. While I had listened to Strange Mercy last year with some definite interest, my devotion was solidly with Merrill and the merry band of tUnE-yArDs; therefore, St. Vincent, and her fireworks display of a live performance, was an explosive and fascinating surprise. Meanwhile, I was beside myself with happiness to see tUnE-yArDs playing their homecoming set in one of the best new places to see music in the Bay Area, and to see the historic Fox Theater finally playing host to one of the most exciting acts to come from its city of residence. Both acts positively brought the house down, each offering their own world of music and welcoming those who were avid fans of an intriguing and mesmerizing display of indie rock, which nonetheless rang true with its own pop brilliance. These are the true queens of the modern music world, and their mission to take the world by storm has barreled through Oakland with a truly fantastic outcome.

St. Vincent's setlist ("Krokodil" and "She Is Beyond" switched; "Northern Lights" was the encore, not "The Party")

St. Vincent's setlist (For the actual set, "Krokodil" and "She Is Beyond" were switched, and "Northern Lights" was the encore, not "The Party")

tUnE-yArDs' setlist

tUnE-yArDs' setlist

Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2012 Jonathan Pirro.

tUnE-yArDs:

Kapowski:

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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