U.S. Girls in Whelan’s, Dublin, on October 25th 2015
U.S. Girls, aka Meghan Remy, gave an unconventional performance this week in Wexford Street’s finest live haunt. The turnout was decent but less-than-packed, leaving space to move around in Whelan’s cosy upstairs venue. Once the show got started, it became immediately evident that this was not going to be the show the average attendee would expect. U.S. Girls’ releases cover a wide variety of genres – influences include rock, disco, electronica, and even reggae, all strung together by Remy’s distinctive and powerful vocals – featuring a complex range of instrumentation that, one would think, would be ideally suited to a live performance. As the show began, Meghan Remy – sporting a brunette buzzcut in stark contrast to the staggering blonde do she wears on the cover of her most recent album, ‘Half Free’ – and her single backing singer got up on stage, without an instrument in sight.
What followed was pretty much comparable to a high profile karaoke session – though that’s not to say it was by any means a bad one. With their entire backing sound being provided through the album recording on the PA, Remy and her singer went through the brief U.S. Girls’ discography almost in its entirety. Watching from the back, one might assume that there was a massive band tucked away at the back of the tiny stage, including guitars, pianos, and drum sets, along with someone arranging the discordant electronic effects that recur in Remy’s music. All this was reduced to Remy rushing over to the PA between each song and flicking a couple of switches. It was minimalist to the point of absurdity, and put some serious pressure on the two singers to carry the performance essentially by themselves.
Which, amazingly, they managed to pull off. One benefit of reusing the exact audio from the album in the live show is that this indicated just how spot-on Remy’s vocals can be. One might be forgiven for assuming that she was simply lip-syncing, and that her vocals were just another element of the pre-recorded sound (in fact, Remy’s pre-recorded singing could be heard in songs that included three or more vocal lines), but in reality she simply hit all of her notes with pinpoint precision, in a mostly identical fashion to the studio version, something that sent chills of recognition through those who’d heard the belting choruses Damn that Valley or Woman’s Work before. To those who haven’t heard it, Meghan Remy’s voice can be a bit jarring. High-pitched and whiney, it’s undeniably an acquired taste, but once acquired it’s a hard one to get out of your head. Expressive to the point that it almost seems affectatious, it makes for an evocative delivery to match U.S. Girls’ intense lyrics, and seeing Remy giving it her all in the flesh was worth the ticket price alone.
U.S. Girls also had the unenviable task of getting a crowd that predominantly consisted of stiff-backed, awkward Irishmen to dance. Remy was committed, dancing constantly on stage hopping down into the audience at one point to get them moving, with varying degrees of success. With their experimental verve and at times bleak lyrical content, it’s easy to overlook that almost all of U.S. Girls’ tracks hold serious danceability, from the airy bob of Navy & Cream to the aggressive, punk-ish bent of Sed Knife. As the show went on, the dance floor slowly started to groove with Remy’s experimental sounds. Given the show’s ambiguous status between live act and DJ set, keeping the dance floor moving was a necessity.
Midway through a rarity broken out for the encore, the backing music abruptly cut out. Momentarily confused, but seeing the humour in the situation, Remy explained that she only had one verse left, and it’d be a shame to leave her last song unfinished. Leading the crowd through stomping/clapping, Remy and her backing singer brought the show to a powerful close, the lack of the pre-recorded accompaniment highlighting the calibre of the vocal talent on display. As the audience’s rhythmic clapping morphed into applause, Remy and her back-up unceremoniously hopped off the stage and wormed their way through the crowd to the humble merch stand that had been set up at the back of the venue. With that, Meghan Remy had brought an end to her first Irish show, one characterised by its defiance of expectations. As first impressions go, it’ll be a tough one to forget.