posted on August 16, 2009 06:03
St Vincent, Papercuts and Camera Obscura (live at La Route du Rock, St Malo, France)
Review Snapshot: A sensational performance from Annie Clark is the highlight of day two and perhaps eventually the entire festival. Papercuts shore up their alt-folk sound for maximum festival effect, while Camera Obscura are sheer pop fun.
The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10
The second day of La Route du Rock promised more subtle charms than last night's sonic thunderstorm. While headliners My Bloody Valentine eventually left many people cold, today the festival's first real star appeared. More of that later.
First, though, we were impressed by San Franciscan Jason Quever and his band Papercuts. If you like the haziness of their album, 'You Can Have What You Want', you may be surprised to hear them live. On record their songs are alt-folk shuffles but tonight they have a sturdier indie-rock shape to them - the pulsing bass of 'Future Primitive', for instance, is complemented by tight riffing and a chilly synth. But Quever's voice still has a faraway dreaminess that blurs those clear lines. Perhaps they rock up for outdoor festivals and alt-folk down in more intimate venues.
No rocking up for Camera Obscura, as indie-pop as you can get without still being in Belle And Sebastian. We understand that their recent Dublin show was somewhat spoiled by Traceyanne Campbell's touch of 'flu, but tonight everyone seems in full health - their set is so jaunty and tuneful that the otherwise sedate Saint Malo crowd starts bouncing around. (Jason Quever had remarked during Papercuts' set on how quiet the crowd were. For her part, Campbell observes how "non-paralytic" the French crowd are compared to beer-frenzied UK festival-goers.)
The Scots band's live trumpet gives off a summery vibe - and a fizz of excitement passes though the crowd on the organ intro to 'Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken', still their best song and a definite crowd favourite here.
But that fizz is nothing compared to the electrifying effect of St Vincent. Annie Clark's performance is thrilling, the talk of the festival site for the rest of the evening.
Alone on stage with an electric guitar and a drum machine beside her on a table, Clark (right) stands behind a hanging black cloth that comes up to her knees. This cloth hides what we believe are pedals but may well be something far more complex and sinister - as her shredded guitar chords fade out 'Your Lips Are Red', she ducks down out of view behind the cloth and produces strange noises. You expect an assistant to whip away the cloth and reveal the singer levitating or sawn in two.
Clark is a fantastic guitarist. Drenched in reverb and effects, her sound is nonetheless piercingly direct and her playing is sparse and intense, with each note carefully chosen and clearly heard. Whether claw-picking a mix of bass and high notes, as on 'Marry Me', or tearing out the savage opening riff of 'Your Lips Are Red', Clark adds tension to songs that are already fraught with drama. By stripping her sound down to a tightly-wound electric guitar, she has recast her songs and found new ways to reveal their magic. 'Marrow', on record sounding like a Hollywood musical waking up hungover on Timbaland's couch, is tonight wiry and funky like Talking Heads or early Prince.
And her voice conveys the same directness and intensity - by not showboating or emoting, she adds sincerity and believability to the drama of her songs, as if she were an innocent bystander caught up in extraordinary turmoil. The 'actor' of her new album's title is not Clark herself but her music, which can flit in a second from doe-eyed romantic yearning to frenzied romantic despair, even within one song: 'The Strangers' starts gently but suddenly explodes like a supernova.
'Marry Me', by now an old favourite of St Vincent fans, gets the biggest crowd reaction. With deft timing Clark delivers its killer couplet: "We'll do what Mary and Joseph did / But without the kid".
As it happens, there's a district of Saint Malo called Saint Vincent. Tonight's visiting fans could be forgiven for assuming the place has only just been renamed in honour of Annie Clark. She's that good.