Little orphan Annie Clark, all alone in this world save for guitar, drum machine and some programmed beats. Petite and cherub-faced, Clark, the one-woman band that is St. Vincent, cuts a seemingly vulnerable figure, but don't be mistaken, she's as fierce as they come. The opening salvo of guitar sends shards of sound flying hither thither, the ragged beat of the drum machine detonating with a loud clack whilst Clark stands motionless, lips imparting her wistful words with a warm, lingering purr.
'Marry Me' steers into more tranquil waters, the choppy guitar replaced by placid rhythms, the ambience become Cocteau Twins' dreamy as the voice lilts, lazy and narcotic, regret and hope bundled together in a heart capturing compound. At times she's dreadfully almost wilfully out of tune, but it all adds to the ramshackle charm.
There's a zesty cover of "an obscure band, called The Beatles", Clark running frisky free with 'Dig A Pony', her intentions respectful, yet raucous. She leaves, however, as she arrived, that refined voice propping up an avalanche of tumbling notes, My Bloody Valentine colliding with Belle & Sebastien to create the sound of St. Vincent.
They come on stage, heads bowed, quiet and inconspicuous. The National have no need to flaunt their wares, the audience know they'll never sell them short. These songs grip tight, taking us on a journey down the darkest avenues of the human heart. Down we plunge, 'Secret Meetings' and 'Mistaken For Strangers' stark and self-reflective, 'Squalor Victoria' and 'Abel' searing immaculate, the sudden shift from deepest melancholy to grasping joy enough to give the audience the bends.
'Fake Empires' slides gleefully into Pixies territory, the Dessner brothers working their guitars over with a brutal intensity, the rhythm section precise and measured and the violinist, his glasses threatening to slide of his nose, beating himself into a frenzy.
And then there's Matt Berninger. A frontman so awkward in the spotlight that he wraps his free arm around himself in a subconscious, reassuring hug. All his gestures seem restricted and awkward, but, unlike so many of his peers, utterly genuine, this is about communication, celebration, yes, but not celebrity.
Berninger mentions Halloween and asks us if we're all pagans before unleashing the damn-near-religious-experience that is 'Mr November'. He clambers onto the security barrier, precarious and carefree after that "pint of Irish whiskey", loosing his words along the dark, deep groove of that remarkable voice.
Pagans? The National make believers of us all.