Annie, Candy, and me.
This week, I attended my first concert since the pandemic began: St. Vincent at Radio City Music Hall.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm sure that anyone who knows me personally is aware that St. Vincent is one of my favorite musicians ever (if not my favorite, full stop).
Annie Clark, or St. Vincent, is a goddamn poet. Her various projects over the years have been transformative, innovative, and socially progressive. Her music (particularly Masseduction and Strange Mercy) has touched me in ways that are difficult to describe, from navigating a difficult relationship with a parent to tearing apart the rigid Velcro that held me together when I came out of the closet. To quote my own publication in the folio linked above, sometimes listening to her music felt (feels?) like a "futile attempt to leverage history with the present through lyrics that weren’t written for me anyway."
Living in New York City now, it was a little rough seeing the ads for her Radio City concert all summer. I say that it was rough because I'm a new New Yorker. As someone who had passed through New York a million times before moving here, I was well aware that it's a much more expensive city than... really anywhere else I've ever been. Still, once I settled into my new apartment, I had some budgeting to do. Seeing the ads for her Daddy's Home Tour stung a little because I knew it would be financially irresponsible for me to nab a ticket.
Then, possibly in return for hosting her while she was in town or possibly because she's a wonderful person, my friend Delaney gifted me a surprise Ticketmaster link to a mezzanine seat for October 12.
Oh, goodie. I had just the shirt to wear to match St. Vincent's 1970s era she's (expertly) exploring right now.
I hadn't seen St. Vincent live since 2017, but I lapped up Daddy's Home one single at a time until the whole album dropped.
That's when the theme really came together for me.
The blonde bobbed wig, the makeup, the decade, the sound and of course, the track "Candy Darling," named for Darling herself. A beautiful love letter to actress, Warhol babe, and advocate for transgender rights Candy Darling, imagining the day she passed away of lymphoma at 29, holding a bouquet of bodega roses and catching the "latest uptown train" to the afterlife.
While I think it would be a clear mistake to assume the whole record is a love letter to Darling, her influence in the album's visuals and message are undeniable. As a whole, the songs are uniquely St. Vincent, but the ethea are certainly shared.
The concept of honoring all women of all identities, intersectionally, as a queer woman herself, with Darling anchoring that message resonated with me in such an unexpected way. There are obvious other messages in the album, like loss of a friend, losing your head to fame, and of course the titular track quite literally about her father returning from prison (wherein she realizes that she is Daddy now), but the socially conscious, progressive throughline is badass.
"Melting of the Sun" brings a groovy twang to the idea that structures of power aren't as fixed as we might have been led to believe. "The sun is this permanent object that, like a lot of institutions of power, is seemingly unavoidable," Clark has said about the track. "It could never be anything but what it is, could never be destroyed . . . I'm talking about some of my musical and literary heroes; women who were really brilliant but who were met with hostility that they did not deserve. A lot of time it was because they were telling the truth. I'm talking about these women and saying 'thank you' for what you've done. You made it easier for me and for everyone who comes after me."
"And, hey, maybe we're watching this power structure that we thought was permanent, maybe we're watching it crumble. And if we are, I would be honored to stand beside you while we watch it burn," she concluded.
The night of the concert, I wrapped up work and forewent my usual hour-long walk (or half-hour jog) to the gym in favor of a branch much closer to home so that I could return, shower, and be ready to head into Manhattan by 6:30. Showtime was at 8, but I had to be sure to arrive by 7 in case there was merch (that I didn't have money for).
Upon arrival, I skipped steps on my way up to the third mezzanine. Just excited to see St. Vincent (or any live music at all), I was floating. I went to the wrong side of the mezzanine in my haste, but the usher at the door didn't seem to mind. She glanced at my ticket, smiled, and met my eyes to say, "Welcome to Radio City Music Hall. Would you like to sit in orchestra this evening?"
I'm sorry, what?
I read once that Billy Joel stopped selling tickets to the front rows of his concerts, tired of seeing the bored faces of the wealthy sitting in front of him. That instead, he reserved tickets for the pit to be given to the "real fans" who scraped their pennies together for a seat in the nosebleeds. I can't verify the veracity of the claim, nor can I surmise that Annie did this, or if it was Radio City themselves simply filling the orchestra by bringing folks down from the top. Whatever the case, I about passed out in the elevator back downstairs.
Comedian Ali Macofsky opened the night with a bawdy set that somehow touched on everything from mother issues to queefing in a tight 30. The audience was less than enthused at the beginning of Macofsky's set, but the raunchier she got, the more we -- no pun intended -- opened up.
Once St. Vincent took the stage, the atmosphere took a palpable shift. She started the night with a fake-out. A body double took the stage in low light, setting off a raucous applause. We cheered and screamed as a petit woman in a trench coat and wig took the stage with her fabulous backup singers. Then, the centerpiece of the set swiveled, revealing the true St. Vincent, setting off an ovation that I wasn't aware could have gotten any louder -- but it did.
Let's make a point clear: St. Vincent knows how to put on a show. Annie Clark is a consummate entertainer and her live sets give you everything. Compared to her previous albums Daddy's Home might sound more subdued through your headphones, but make no mistake -- seeing it live, this is a St. Vincent concert. Her hard, chest-busting sound makes a familiar return, brilliantly run through the '70s vibration you get on the studio album.
She presented familiar (but reworked) throwbacks like "Marrow," "Fast Slow Disco," and "Your Lips Are Red." "Sugarboy" effervesced into a cataclysm; a new version of "Los Ageless" blew Radio City apart. Truly, just about as many songs from former albums made appearances in the set as those on Daddy's Home.
There was a poignant rendition of "New York," too. Her first show in New York City, her home, since the pandemic began tugged at the heartstrings of the nearly-sold out music hall when she referenced all of us before her while crooning, "New York isn't New York without you, love" and "I have lost a hero, I have lost a friend / But for you, darling, I'd do it all again."
I didn't talk much on the way home. I decompressed from the social interaction, from the music, from seeing songs I've wanted to see live for years, and from enjoying the new album I'd been levitating with excitement over all week.
I waited far too long for the downtown F train, as usual.
Stewing with thoughts on the album and the performance born of it, I sat down to write.