Annie Clark, who performs as St. Vincent, is a true rock star. She’s a guitar hero in an era where few such icons crop up, and she’s steadily compiling a body of work rich with assertiveness, ambition and wit to rival any artist in the past decade.

Those expecting a rock concert at the State Theatre, however, were thrown a curveball. Instead of flanking herself with bass guitars, a keyboardist and drums, Clark indulged heavily on the visual component of her artistic practice and sought to elevate the concept of the lone singer-songwriter holding a guitar onstage into a full-blown multimedia art project that veered between stark minimalism and sensory overload. All of her backing instruments were prerecorded, and she used this as a foundation to build a solo performance heavy in stage direction, in which every gesture seemed tightly choreographed.

Clark has long been fascinated with plasticine, almost doll-like visuals, whether they are a commentary on how women musicians are objectified, a way of removing ego from her performance, or even just an aesthetic preference that engages her. Here, she dressed in a shocking-pink latex costume that made her look like a circus acrobat, and frequently shuffled her feet in staccato steps like a wind-up toy. This illusion of artifice lent more power to the moments when she broke character and furiously banged out guitar solos, thrashing her body about in a bath of strobe-light.

In the show’s first half, she wandered from one microphone stand to another, at each one performing a sampling from a pre-2017 album in chronological order, beginning with “Marry Me” and “Now Now” from 2007’s Marry Me and continuing up through “Rattlesnake” and “Birth in Reverse” from 2014’s St. Vincent. As she progressed, the curtains were slowly drawn back to shift her backdrop and open up more of the stage. Much like her sometimes collaborator David Byrne once achieved by wearing a giant suit, the use of curtains to shrink and expand the stage gave the effect of making her seem at times bigger and smaller.

Annie Clark took the stage alone Friday in Portland, relying only on her guitar talents and arresting visual backdrops. Photo by Robert Ker

In that Stop Making Sense concert, David Byrne began by playing “Psycho Killer” alone with a boom box and guitar, and gradually introduced the Talking Heads and a cavalcade of guest musicians to grow the stage. At the State Theatre, Clark achieved a similar kind of visual crescendo while remaining solo and never abandoning the “boom box” of her piped-in backing band. The decision to go it alone was a brave one that she nailed with perfection, in part because she had to – if she screwed up a song in any way, there was no band in place to steady her. A band is a safety net, and she willfully abandoned it.

For the second half of the show, she performed her 2017 album, MASSEDUCTION, in its entirety from a platform in the center of the stage, while a projection of surreal videos (usually starring Clark) played behind her. This served as the capper for an entire evening that highlighted Clark’s passion for filmmaking; the show started with a screening of “The Birthday Cake,” a darkly comic short film that Clark directed for the women-filmmaker horror anthology XX.

The joy of the concert was the execution of Clark’s singular vision and the sheer economy and ingenuity of the setup; many bands spend far more money and end up with far less theatricality. At times, the show felt more intellectually engaging than “fun” in the sense of a traditional, beer-soaked rock concert, but that’s fine. We get enough of the latter in Portland; to see an artist at the peak of her career perform the former was a bracing experience.

Robert Ker is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.