At the end of ‘Woman’s Work’, the final track from US Girls’ outstanding new album ‘Half Free’, Meg Remy and her bandmate/backing vocalist Amanda Crist – the only other person onstage with her tonight – link arms, take a long, deliberately hammy bow, disappear behind the curtain to the sound of enthusiastic applause and then… silence. It’s more stunned than unappreciative, but palpably awkward all the same: is the show over? Is it safe to retire to the bar? Or should we start baying for more? Nobody’s quite sure until Remy returns a few seconds later, prompted by an audience member’s solitary ‘Whoop!’, and mock-angrily addresses us for the first time: “What the fuck?!” she exclaims. “You’re supposed to cheer and then we come back out. You guys don’t know how to do it.”
If the crowd have neglected proper encore etiquette, it’s likely because no-one expected Remy herself to adhere to it – for the last 40 minutes, this performance has been more of a mischievous deconstruction of pop convention than a wholehearted embrace of it. You could look at ‘Half Free’ in much the same way: Remy made her name with a series of lo-fi, experimental LPs that flew under the radar but her latest sounds like a play for the more accessible avant-pop territory staked out by fellow 4AD label-mates Grimes and Deerhunter. It helps that she’s an absolutely magnetic performer who sashays through the gawp-jawed crowd like a platform-heeled gladiatrix during ‘Window Shades’, but just as significant is her voice – smoky, soulful and Ronnie Spector-esque, you’d listen to Remy sing the FAQs of her sampler’s instruction manual, but when she turns it to something as hook-laden and infectious as ‘Damn That Valley’, the results are spectacular.
Even when she’s at her most imperious, however, there’s a determinedly DIY aesthetic at play. Remy has performed with a full band in the past, but the only instrumentation tonight takes the form of samplers and tape machines, lending a charmingly-amateurish air to proceedings, as though this show is taking place in her parents’ garage and there just so happens to be 60-odd strangers watching. On a technical level, it’s far from a slickly-managed spectacle – the first few tracks are marred by maddening feedback, and there are long between-song intervals where Remy is hunched over her tape machine, splicing audio of hot-tempered political polemics with snatches of old soul songs – but crucially, you can see how it could be. The question, really, is whether or not that’s what Remy herself wants: to paraphrase the lyrics of ‘Woman’s Work’, she’ll be leaving in a splitter van rather than a black limousine tonight, but next time? All bets are off.