CAMBRIDGE - Annie Clark whittled away about half of Saturday night thanking her fans, in a timbre grateful and unbelieving, but also vaguely reverent. (Cantabridgians, take note: You are excellent, intelligent, and if Ms. Clark doesn't say so herself, beautiful.)
An unnecessary gesture, in one way, since everyone would have stuck around even if Clark had thrown a tantrum, or played the set with her middle finger planted firmly up her nose. (She is too much of a show-woman for that, and probably far too kind.) Still, it's not totally impossible to understand the sense of incredulity.
Clark has spent most of the last year crafting a musical persona, St. Vincent, and promoting an accompanying album, full of intricate instrumental digressions, called "Marry Me." St. Vincent is ostensibly a rock outfit - it has been scooped up and promoted by the estimable Beggars Banquet Records - but in practice, the sound is wilder, and weirder, than almost anything released on that label.
"Marry Me" is operatic in register; it is operatic, too, in its sweeping theatrical scope. In interviews, Clark has made much of her wish to introduce some authorial ambiguity, via the name St. Vincent - as opposed to Annie Clark, which might signify something else altogether - and by a tangle of songs that mix perspectives and histrionics.
Saturday, Clark played with a three-man backing band that included Daniel Hart, the talented violinist from "Marry Me." Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls, who spent some of the evening in the crowd, eventually joined Clark onstage for the satiric "Marry Me." ("Oh John, c'mon, we'll do what married people do," runs one line.)
Clark is at the disadvantage of having only one album - judging by the raucous reception, full of amorous declarations, I imagine this won't be a problem for much longer - and the set was relatively short. But she wrung the very best out of it, railroading together disparate stretches of vaudeville, sulky jazz lines, gypsy rags, and big pop ballads ("All My Stars Aligned"), through a small orchestra of vocal effects boxes.
On "Paris Is Burning," amid the imagery of a ruined city, Clark invited an unnamed character to "come sit right here and sleep while I slip poison in your ear." The story line, in part, is Shakespeare's, from "Hamlet"; Clark swept it up into a distinctly modern guitar tempest, and made it her own.
Live, of course, it is harder to make the distinction between Annie Clark and St. Vincent. She is there, for one; it's not just Clark's voice, but also Clark herself, a 25-year-old with the preternatural ability to keep the rapt attention of a jubilant, sold-out house. This may be a problem, in the future, for the St. Vincent project.
For the rest of us, it's a gift, as Clark herself sang, wrapped in the "rosy-red pallor of lights on center stage."