Arts & Culture

Review: St. Vincent and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at Winspear Opera House

St. Vincent performs with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Assistant Conductor Karina Canellakis May 17, 2015.
St. Vincent performs with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Assistant Conductor Karina Canellakis May 17, 2015. Star-Telegram

See St. Vincent in concert often enough, and the shock of the new becomes rather familiar.

Dallas-raised singer-songwriter (and recent Grammy winner) Annie Clark, who performs as St. Vincent, is far afield from where she began eight years ago with her debut album, Marry Me.

Every twist and turn of that deliberate journey has been fascinating to behold.

No previous performance, however, could have prepared a sold-out audience for what Clark attempted Sunday with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Winspear Opera House: a concert doubling as an art installation. (Originally scheduled to be held in the Winspear-adjacent Strauss Square, the performance was relocated indoors last week, because of weather concerns.)

Staged as part of the inaugural Soluna International Music & Arts Festival, a three-week, multi-disciplinary endeavor thematically united in part by, as the festival’s web site describes it, “those inspired by a uniquely optimistic view that is central to the American experience.”

Clark’s brand of optimism favors acidic, faintly eerie couplets delivered through clenched teeth, but there is some sunlight to be glimpsed in her music, however briefly.

Sunday’s showcase began with a 45-minute St. Vincent set, featuring Clark backed by a trio of musicians. It was familiar in the sense that it featured plenty of what have now become St. Vincent hallmarks: severe lighting, spastic dancing and lacerating baroque pop songs.

The audience showered Clark with adoring catcalls all night, but she never once acknowledged them, except for a peculiar soliloquy roughly halfway through: “A very special and warm welcome to the freaks,” Clark began, before touching on Bill’s Records, the Garland Road thrift store, former Dallas Cowboy Leon Lett and Texas thunderstorms.

Leading off with Birth in Reverse, Clark embraced the room — the largest she’s yet played at home — and its sophisticated acoustics, rendering her compositions in the ferocious glare of strobe lights.

St. Vincent has grown more confrontational, with regards to its staging, over the years, even as the music itself has become increasingly raw and introspective. That juxtaposition between exposure and antagonism remains one of the chief thrills of seeing St. Vincent live.

Given the chance to incorporate other elements into the presentation, the 32-year-old Clark again seized the opportunity to mess with the conventions of a straightforward rock concert — during Actor Out of Work, a small troupe of dancers was occasionally glimpsed behind the band, frozen in space by the strobing lights.

But the most audacious addition was that of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, led by assistant conductor Karina Canellakis.

Clad entirely in white jumpsuits, like a small army of painters that just happened to pick up instruments, the orchestra’s own 45-minute portion added a compelling new dimension to St. Vincent’s music.

The orchestra performed Proven Badlands (a Clark composition for chamber music sextet yMusic) by itself, before Clark and her bandmates rejoined them for Cheerleader.

The sharp contrast between the orchestra’s rich, deft presentation and St. Vincent’s jagged, nervy disposition was pulse-quickening — the members were wholly part of Clark’s grand vision, moving about from song to song, refusing to stay static and staid.

Incorporating the players as more than just adornment helped liven up what is often an awkward fusion of two very different musical worlds.

Once St. Vincent tore into Digital Witness, from her 2014 self-titled LP, the night took wing, with Cruel and the orchestra-augmented set’s staggering finale, Huey Newton, wedding explosive guitar work reminiscent of vintage Queen, with the blood and thunder roar of the orchestra.

What might’ve seemed at the outset as something of a gamble instead turned out to be the latest twist in St. Vincent’s ever-evolving journey — another step toward cementing her legacy as one of the most unique musicians to ever call North Texas home.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713

Twitter: @prestonjones

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