There's a reason most quality bands avoid Nashville. Aside from the infinitely lame white-horse carriage rides and hollow, slicked-up bar bands, there's the simple fact that citizens of "Music City" don't usually attend good shows. That's not to say the burgeoning house show scene isn't a welcome antidote to the general awfulness of most local music, but when the good bands come through Nashtown and only three people make it out, bands don't forget and don't return.
Imagine my surprise when a full house greeted St. Vincent and Pattern Is Movement Thursday night at the Mercy Lounge.
A few friends and I walk in on Pattern Is Movement just as "Right away" — off 2008's super-ambitious and rewarding All Together — kicks in. I'd once played a barren show in Michigan with these lads and was infinitely ready to have my mind blown by their musical acrobatics. Drummer Chris Ward flails and grooves like very few can, and lead singer/keyboardist Andrew Thiboldeaux is a contender for operatic crooner of the decade.
But alas, the glistening sweat on these two beardos was a tell-tale sign — it's the last song of their set and I've been victim to the rare "thirty-minute blunder." Who ever heard of a show starting at listed time? Well, needless to say, I was kicking myself when Ward later tells me they played a Beyoncé cover and two new songs. At any rate, it was an exceptionally good four minutes.
Just as I'm coping with a cold one, my idol walks in. No, not early '90s Christian Contemporary singer Amy Grant, but a close second: David Motherfucking Byrne. In Tennessee for Bonnaroo, Byrne is apparently a good friend of Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent), and his zen-like demeanor energizes the room in the best kind of way. By the time St. Vincent hits the stage with a four-man backing band — touting an impressive array of clarinet, flute, tenor saxophone, violin, bass, drums, electric guitar and keyboard — all eyes are on Annie and she's more than easy on the eyes.
From breaking into opener "Marry Me" and finishing with thunderous rock-jazz-freakout encore "Your Lips Are Red," however, the real transcendence is found in St. Vincent's remarkable performance. Between these bookends, Clark and band filled the set with inspired renditions of new songs "The Strangers" and "Marrow" (from last month's brilliant Actor) as well as older favorites "Now Now" and a solo rendition of "Paris Is Burning" — the latter being a ringer for the Aguilera ditty "Genie In A Bottle." Oh yes, I went there.
Due credit to the band's ultra-lush arrangements, which were air-tight in their execution. During set highlight "Marrow," between ping-ponging clarinet and sax arpeggios, I realized: as excellent as St. Vincent records are, they don't do justice to the woman's live capabilities. Even her Hendrix imitations didn't feel superfluous but ultra-melodic and on point. The only drawback was the occasionally excessive light and fog show. I even caught Byrne giggling a bit when the dry-ice reached its meridian, completely shrouding the band. Still, when used succinctly, as in the final, slowmo verses of showstopper "Your Lips Are Red," the visual effects were basically magical — a reminder that we were all witnessing an event worthy of spectacle.