The crowd beset by a field of summer frocks and skinny jeans, was already brimming by the time Melbourne’s own Minibikes opened the bill with some polished hooks. A five-piece playing straight-up indie pop, with a soft spot for boy-girl harmonies between singer Marcel Borrack and keys lass Libby Chow. Their mood is sprightly if not distinctive, but there’s far worse things than being likable at this stage of a career.

Fire, Santa Rosa, Fire! soon grace the stage, and those familiar with the Adeladians’ previous work will notice that this is a group in transition. Though there’s room for the vicious hi-hat rolls and agitated hooks of “Little Cowboys, Bad Hombres,” their newer material instead shifts from the angular towards the atmospheric. Washing their restless pop hooks in spacious swirls with a new focus to vocalist Caitlin Duff’s enigmatic croon. Newer cuts, including a self-described ‘slow-burn’ and galvanising single “Panther Shrine,” shows them playing to their inventive, and technical, side; centered around hypnotic guitar loops and octave-hopping that spiral into cathartic grooves. After tonight’s showing, they’re sure to pick up a few followers on their own measured march towards their sophomore album.

Their left-field pop is fitting support to a lady who’s mastered the field, having famously earned her stripes with the likes of The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, Annie Clark – the brains behind St. Vincent – possesses a live show fitting of her expansive albums.

With a  new line-up of dual synth wielders and drummer Matt Johnson, the focus is clearly on Ms. Clark. The impressive lighting tells us as much, inky blacks and smoky, coloured spots all emphasise her demure silhouette. Rocking leather hot pants and a charcoal top with elaborately floral shoulders, she opens with the delectably unhinged mechanics of Surgeon.

Perhaps the most succinct realisation of the musical contrasts she’s been honing thus far, Surgeon juxtaposes  idyllic, sawing synths with simple, melodic repetition (“get along, get along,”) while Clark’s skating guitar lines circle in a nervy loop that eventually engulfs the track. In its break-down, it sounds like the proverbial Stepford Wive malfunctioning to simply break free of her hem-tied surroundings.

It’s a powerful opening, quickly establishing that Clark is not only an imaginative composer, but also a ferocious guitar player. Scratching and slashing away at her strings, her bank of pedals voice her axe with a grinding buzz on “Actor Out Of Work” or a dense sci-fi grind on “Marrow.” She’s particularly violent to her fretboard during an electric “Save Me From What I Want,” but her channelled intensity reaches a head when her amp starts stuttering during “Neutered Fruit.” With a burst of verbal aggression, she gives it a good throttle before hurling herself into an especially grizzled bout of shredding.

Though usually portrayed, with her cascading curls and doll-like eyes, as a demure, softly-spoken lass, Clark is unafraid to embrace the darker elements to her personality. It’s what charges her fascinating music, a carefully plotted choreography of contradictions. Her baroque arrangements vie for fey synth-laden pop but then her lacerating guitar cuts angles across it. This struggle between the fair and the fierce is all the more visceral in the live setting, even her most dissonant squalor voices her sordid tales of suburban housewives and cryptically abusive relationships with cruel precision.

Highlights are plentiful, from the afro-pop trot of “Cruel,” to the unveiling of brand new track “Crocodile” that sees Clark unexpectedly launching herself into the audience, pinballing between -agog punters. Her enchanting choral register is showcased on “The Party,” as if to prove she’s more than a (extremely pretty) voice, she closes with the monstrous punch of “Your Lips Are Red.” Clark can certainly play beautiful when she fancies, but it’s not nearly as interesting as when she plays rough.

– Al Newstead

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