I was there to see The National and that was all that mattered. The opening act could have been Aaron Shust singing with The Insane Clown Posse, and as soon as The National stepped on stage I still would have considered the whole thing worth my time. Thankfully, the opener was _not_ Aaron Shust dueting with The Insane Clown Posse.

Instead, the lights focused on a single girl, whose petiteness was emphasized by the dark stage downing her lone, tiny figure. She stood in a circle of pedals, mikes, programmers, and guitars. The person next to me quietly asked who she was.

“St. Vincent.”

I was prepared for quiet ballads with gentle, but lovely vocals. She opened without a word. She hit the synth with a drumstick, and out came distinguished programmed rhythms, chants, and beats. She took one step back, picking up her red electric guitar, and with elusive grace began a pick and strum pattern that Sam Beam would have approved. Fingers flew over impossible chords. I was reminded of the eighties videos where you see a guitarist writhing on his back, guitar held at an angle, playing music to dazzle listeners, but instead of that frown of concentration and running drop of sweat, St. Vincent hardly noticed her fretboard. No, her dreamlike gaze stayed in tack, and she shook her head from one shoulder to the other, chin length hair brushing her check at each tick. Her foot stomped for the effect of the bass drum, sometimes the steady pounding, others in a wave of a double bass produced by a march, almost a job. And with the ease and grace of a debutant, St. Vincent took one step forward to the mike. We all held our breath, hoping against hope that this woman could vocally equal the prowess of her musical performance.

With the strength of Azure Ray and the beauty of Eisley, St. Vincent did not disappoint. We grasped to absorb her abstract lyrics and haunting tones, hardly knowing whether to watch the rocking guitar cradled with blurred fingers or the serene half-smile of a woman singing about dolls, Jesus, life, and marriage.

While Jesus is saving, I’m spending all my days

In the garden-grey pallor of lines across your face

While people will cheer on the spectacle we’ve made

I’m sitting and sculpting menageries of saints.

The song (could it only have been one song?) ended to a half-beat of stunned silence, then erupting cries and cheers. St. Vincent stepped back, brushing her hair from her face, and after sipping a water bottle demurely, she stepped to the mike again.

“Thank you. I could hardly think of a better way for a girl to celebrate her sixteenth birthday than supporting The National.”

My friend and I turned to each other mouths agape. No way. Sure enough, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) is actually twenty-four, but for a moment and a half we fell for it. She’s played guitar for both The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens. She has opened for Television, John Vanderslice, Tracy + the Plastics, and now The National. Her album is available through Beggars Records, and worthy of multiple listens.

As she finished her set, she quietly rebuffed the multiple cries of “Marry me!” (the title of her album) with “I’m only sixteen.” She thanked the crowd and as the stage went dark, she walked away so The National could play. We clapped, jump, and shouted with an earned reverence. The venue filled the background music with The Smiths, and we waited for the openers, but I wasn’t prepared because of the intelligence of the music St. Vincent had played left my mind repeating her songs, synth, rifts, and mighty vocals It took the beginning strums of “Mistaken for Strangers” remind me I had come to hear another band entirely.

*Lauren Harris* is a contributor to The CCM Patrol.

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