Published Apr 12, 2018In A Poem Unlimited, the latest album from Toronto-based Meg Remy as U.S. Girls, is a certified banger. Dipping in and out of diverse sounds from bluesy guitars to Robyn-esque drum machine, the album is exceptionally strong, and rightfully earned coverage that validated it as such.
Despite these bucket-loads of praise, the Montreal venue that hosted Remy's showcase of that album was an odd pick. L'Escogriffe is a relatively poky basement space, best known for hosting smaller, less established artists: think five dollar cover charges. Maybe those who booked U.S. Girls were fearful that the show wouldn't sell, or maybe somebody just wanted an intimate space — in any case, the venue was an odd choice that didn't pay off.
From the opener until almost the middle of the set, acoustics were an issue: strange mixing meant that opening renditions of "Velvet 4 Sale" and "Rage Of Plastics" were transformed into frustrating karaoke versions of the studio originals, with Remy's voice beaten down to a mumble, courtesy of heavily amplified drums and bass.
This poses an unusual conundrum: Remy didn't do anything wrong here (at least not onstage), and it would be unreasonable to complain that she simply wasn't projecting enough — in a purely visual sense, her attitude and performance were sharp (with the exception of a muted take on the boppy-but-bitter "Rosebud"). Yet for extended moments, she was drowned out and forcibly relegated to the background, despite being the main event.
Mercifully, this was slowly remedied as time went by. Tracks like "Love-R" were delivered with solid swagger and sharply coordinated support vocals that served as a neat departure from the album. The acoustics worked far better for rockier songs from Remy's previous album Half Free — both the rollicking approach of "Sed Knife" and the wistful sounds of "Sororal Feelings" were higher points.
But it tragically took almost the entire set for the acoustics for Remy and her seven-piece band to wholly fall into place. A zingy take on the hip-hop-tinged "Pearly Gates" was the first moment to truly electrify the room, going above and beyond any studio performance. The whole spectacle was arguably saved by the finale, "Time," an extended jam that wrapped up both Remy's latest album and the show, with Remy descending into the crowd, and her band members in a rhythmic, catchy lockstep.
Even after those sonic troubles were ironed out, Remy and her band still seemed constrained by the whole situation, and one can't help but feel that the potential for an excellent show was squandered. Beyond any complaints about sound, L'Escogriffe simply doesn't have a stage cut out for eight people. With Remy confined to about two square feet (not counting her foray into the audience), it seemed that despite ample passion and pizzazz, U.S. Girls didn't have the necessary space to spread their wings.