The Winspear Opera House played host to a worthwhile experiment in art-pop on Sunday evening, with a sold-out crowd of young music fanatics in attendance to witness it.
As part of the ongoing Soluna International Music & Arts Festival, Grammy winner St. Vincent — nee Dallas-raised musician Annie Clark — joined her guitars, band and striking visuals together with a gaggle of players from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The results? Impressive and delightfully edgy, as expected.
Clark and her three-piece band began the evening by laying out the basics of the St. Vincent live aesthetic, performing 10 songs stripped-down with no orchestra in sight.
The triplet of tunes that kicked off the set — "Birth In Reverse," "Regret" and "Rattlesnake" — all dealt with disconnectedness and anxiety in their lyrics. The accompanying visuals played into those themes with mood-setting fog and strobe effects, as well as some awkwardly twitchy choreography by Clark and her band.
Each successive song in the first half left a strong impression. As Clark tackled the menacing guitar lines of "Actor Out of Work," strobe lights revealed in the background a small dance troupe moving as one, in slow motion.
Clark took quick, tiny steps around the stage as if she was moving on a platform during "Year of the Tiger," dramatically plucking at her guitar strings all the while. She stood atop a platform to croon the downtempo 2014 highlight "Prince Johnny," capping it off with one of her signature guitar solos.
As "Prince Johnny" came to a close, Clark laid down on the steps of her platform and, just like that, the curtain behind her rose to reveal conductor Karina Canellakis and a 21-piece-orchestra. All were dressed in white jumpsuits.
The orchestra introduced itself by playing a short, moody interlude that sounded like the score of a future St. Vincent biopic. And then began the seven-song interplay between band and symphony. The 2011 tune "Cheerleader," the first collaborative selection, easily exceeded any expectations we'd had going in. The string section swelled beautifully behind the band as Clark sang, "I don't wanna be a cheerleader no more."
St. Vincent's music — much of which was produced here in Dallas with the help of John Congleton — already contains the kinds of chord progressions and instrumental flourishes that lend themselves to an orchestral treatment. So none of the songs played with the DSO's musicians strayed too far from their original visions. They were simply more fleshed out, bigger.
The violins on "Black Marrow," the regal brass refrains in "Cruel," the alternating string-section melodies on "Digital Witness" — every juiced-up tune was met with riotous applause from the Winspear crowd.
As epic as her songs sounded with the added oomph of the orchestra, Clark's voice still floated above everything else. Her crystal-clear pipes, which tend to cut through whether she's singing low or high, elicited screams from eager fans throughout the evening.
Clark got the crowd especially worked up 13 songs in while delivering her only spoken comments of the night. She read a kind of poem or soliloquy aimed at the "miscreants, delinquents, truants, dominatrixes and the dominated of Dallas, Texas." She then worked in some references to likely staples from her childhood including Bill's Records, Garland Road Thrift Store and the Dallas Cowboys.
For the encore later in the evening, three of the symphony's violinists rolled Clark out on a stretcher. As they hovered over her, she harmonized with their violins on 2009's "The Party." It ended a homecoming show that neither Clark nor her fans will soon forget. One question, though — is there any way she can take that orchestra on the road with her?