There was something in the way she moved. When Annie Clark, who performs as St. Vincent, made her way across the stage at the House of Blues on Thursday, it wasn’t in broad or even normal steps. They were brisk, staccato paces that made her resemble a robot shuffling along a conveyor belt while wielding an electric guitar and wild tufts of cotton-candy hair.
On the opening “Rattlesnake,” Clark rolled her shoulders, one by one, stared straight into the crowd, and loosed her limbs as though they were being pulled by marionette strings.
As St. Vincent, Clark provokes and gets a lot of mileage out of a complex conceit: How much of what she does is real and how much is fantasy or maybe even satire? And does her art, which can come off as cold and calculated, spring solely from the head or is the heart involved, too? She leaves those questions unanswered on purpose, sending you into the night with a lot to consider and process.
Clark is a study in contrasts, the guitar shredder who rarely gives in to the desire to play the hell out of her instrument, instead teasing with just a taste of the damage she could do. She also sings with a pretty, decorous voice that creates a gripping tension amid the cacophony of jagged melodies and tempos shifting around her like quicksand. She’s a rock musician and performance artist in equal measure and a kindred spirit to David Byrne, with whom she made an album, 2012’s “Love This Giant.”
St. Vincent is touring behind her acclaimed new self-titled album, bringing with her a three-piece band that fleshed out her songs with a drummer and two synth players, one of whom also played occasional guitar. On “Birth in Reverse,” the impressive light design pulsed and flickered at such a speed that rendered the entire band in seeming animation, like crude cartoons coming to life in a flipbook. It was a dizzying visual to accompany the twists and turns of the jittery music.
Clark reemerged solo for the first song of the encore, “Strange Mercy,” tugging at heartstrings by laying herself bare with just her voice and guitar. “We can feel you up here,” she had remarked earlier in the evening, and now, finally, the feeling was mutual.