Photo: U.S. Girls

U.S. Girls Smash Patriarchy

Meg Remy’s deliberate silence early in the U.S. Girls set at Union Stage Sunday night let you know that though she was having fun; she wasn’t fucking around. Remy is U.S. Girls, who are currently touring their sixth record, In a Poem Unlimited. Center stage, silent and dressed in all black, Remy stared back at anyone making a sound.

Side note, Ian Svenonious’ solo act, Escape-ism, opened for U.S. Girls. I first heard about Svenonious and Escape-ism in talking with Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation, (see here). Hilton was talking about bands he loves to see around town and Svenonious was the first thing to come to mind:

“Anything Ian Svenonious does, I love. I just saw Escape-ism at DC9, and I just thought it was brilliant. It’s very esoteric, like a lot of his things are, but it’s awesome.”

He was right. Escape-ism was odd, very 60s performance art, but great. Check out his DC special, “Exorcist Stairs.”

Remy called for this silence after the third or fourth song of the set, (or willed rather, because she didn’t say a thing), before she started singing “Rosebud.” The title is a reference to Citizen Kane, but I like to call it “Finch Song” because of the music video, which shows her partner, Slim Twig, setting free a booty-shaking finch.

Slim Twig and his band, The Cosmic Range, actually joined Remy for the tour, as well as being a background vocalist. The Cosmic Range is a free jazz group based in Toronto, but they were a perfect fit for Remy’s disco-inflected songs. They were also able to play “off-record,” (i.e. not according to the studio recording) to flex Remy’s experimental chops.

Their look lent itself to the more surreal U.S. Girls songs. Alongside Remy and her background singer’s chic black, they looked positively Lynch-ian. The saxophonist played a comically small curved sopranino sax and the keyboard player wore all red, red slacks and red button down, though no tie; he also tended to dance like he was slapping a horse.

The drummer and Slim Twig looked very much the part of “band members.” Slim even looked like he belonged in a group who takes their coffee intravenously. Either way they were sexy; Slim was the ‘sexy garbage’ to the drummer’s ‘sexy hipster.’

Remy’s silence was a recurring note throughout the night. She refused to allow songs to die à la Frankie Cosmos, which is to say slowly and with a whimper, and instead pushed for an end with free jazz flurries, followed by stillness. Again, The Cosmic Range hookup makes sense.

The songs are long and groove. Remy has routinely experimented with countless genres over the years for U.S. Girls.  For In a Poem Unlimited, she dived deep into disco and other early dance music. Lyrically and tonally they’re on another level. Her songs tend to channel the anger of wronged women.

For example, “The Pearly Gates” imagines a woman on her way to heaven who realizes the only way in is through Peter, and Peter is a fucking monster. The song asks if heaven is safe if it’s run by men, and if Remy’s stories were only intelligible to the studied listener, she left no room for ambiguity on her position when she paused the set another time; she played a sample of someone saying “I strongly encourage you not to tell women what to do.”

She let the sample run several times, nodding toward the audience, before moving to the next.

As the show went on, the performance became more unhinged. If the first several songs were christian baby making music, then the latter were more chimera-child making music. The groove moved to a sort of slink, and you almost felt as if the band had forgotten the audience. Remy, her background vocalist and the keyboardist were dancing around one another, and you felt they might tear each other’s clothes off. But if they were to fuck, the rest of the band would probably only stare glassy-eyed.

For the encore, only Remy came back onstage. She told the audience “there are no encores in life” and dropped the microphone. For more on U.S. Girls follow them on Twitter, and for more on Remy, check out her Instagram. Find In a Poem Unlimited wherever you get your music.

That Magic from Son Little at Union Stage

I didn’t care to bring this up over the phone, but the last thing I did before calling Aaron Earl Livingston, aka Son Little, was sing the chorus of his gospel-infused single “Lay Down.” It was also the first thing I did after hanging up the phone too.

Over the weekend, I got to speak with Livingston about his upcoming performance at Union Stage as well as a number of other things, like what it takes to write a song and his budding love for surfing. I was first introduced to his music through his NPR Tiny Desk Concert and we talk about that briefly.

“You play those things from time to time,” he says. “And [Tiny Desk] is a cool one. The folks over there are real laid back and you forget that you’re in an office building.”

The video, in which he also performs “Lay Down,” also gives you a sense of how laid back Livingston comes across himself. He’s from Pennsylvania, but DC’s been a home to him as well. Coming up, his sister and uncle lived here and used to come down to visit.

His sister also sings background for him in the Tiny Desk video and Livingston tells me that she used to perform as a background singer locally for neo-soul acts, including Wayna.

“I would go down there to see her sing,” he says with a laugh.

Recently however, it’s been Son Little’s time. In 2015 he released an eponymous debut record and in September 2017, he released New Magic. He says he’s been working on more material since then. Although he’s reluctant to go into detail, he does say this:

“I’ve written some killer songs in the past few months and I can’t wait to get them out.” I ask him whether we can hope to hear any of this material at Union Stage.

“That’s a good question,” he says laughing. “Some of the stuff, my guys in the band are just starting to hear and it might be an interesting exercise to try those out in front of an audience and see what sticks.”

To give you a sense of his music, his related artists on Spotify include Leon Bridges and Shakey Graves, which is to say that his music is Americana. But Livingston feels a little more difficult to categorize. For example, where Bridges is more evocative of a single style and leans toward a Sam Cooke sound, Livingston seems to span more styles. Think R&B, but with an emphasis on the blues that you’d expect from an artist with a name like Son Little.

The name of his new record, New Magic, came somewhat by chance. Originally, New Magic was the title for the song that he would later dub “The Middle.”

“It happened on a day when I was working on “Blue Magic” and so I think that phrase was in my head. I had a few minutes before heading out to rehearsal and I thought let me try something new real quick, something to cleanse my palette.”

There and then he wrote the chords and chorus of “The Middle,” but at the time, he wasn’t giving the title much thought.

“Just to give it something, some kind of name, when I saved it in my phone, I typed ‘New Magic.’ That song later became ‘The Middle,’ but one day I thought, ‘what am I going to name [the record]’ and it just hit me—it popped into my head and made sense.”

Musically, however, the songs are quite different. “The Middle” describes some sort of liminal moment where the character is voicing some will for change whereas “Blue Magic” rolls unencumbered like the surfers in the music video.

Livingston tells me that “Blue Magic” is about the creative process and how good creative energy feels.

“I worked on it in a hotel room in Hawaii, and I had just gone surfing for the first time. I had been working on ‘Blue Magic’ for a while, and finished it there and in some part under the influence of surfing, which is one of the closest things you can do to surrendering yourself to the Earth’s creative energy, and the feeling of that… it’s exhilarating, it’s intoxicating.” I ask him if he’s had a chance to go surfing since then.

“One time and I fucking ate shit,” he says, but also strongly recommends I try it as soon as I possibly can.

From what I gather in our conversation, Livingston does a great deal of his work in hotel rooms. He tells me he wrote a number of the songs for New Magic while staying in a hotel room in Australia. I ask him if there’s something about the space that lends itself to songwriting, but he laughs off my pointed question.

“I don’t know if it does. But it’s kinda the name of the game. If you wanna do it, you gotta make it work and everytime I do it, I think I get a little bit better at it.”

The songs that he wrote in the hotel room in Australia were also written on a guitar that belonged to Dr. G, or Gurrumul, an aboriginal sort of folk musician, who had a voice which Livingston describes as angelic. This is in part the magic which Livingston refers to.

“I had written these songs on what I felt like was in part a magical instrument, on this incredible singer’s guitar, halfway across the world… I could feel the energy in it, knew there were songs in it.”

Another part of the New Magic, Livingston continues, is what it takes to write a song.

“I had been thinking about the need to search for a song within yourself and all the things that have to come together to make that, and when you look back you don’t even know… It’s hard, talking like this, to explain how those things occured. The closest thing I can relate it to is a magic trick which you can’t explain how you performed.”

Son Little performs Thursday, April 19 at Union Stage. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets starting at $20. Follow Son Little on Twitter and Instagram, and check out his music on Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube.  
Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC;; 877-987-6487

Photo: Salina Ladha

Homeshake Plays for the Kids at Union Stage

Saturday night at Union Stage, Homeshake went on a little after 7 p.m. It felt early for a headliner, but I guess Homeshake was playing for the kids. The venue was sold out but it never felt crowded. Children are smaller though.

Homeshake is led by Peter Sagar, a grad of the Mac DeMarco touring band, and his music feels like a more sedate and intimate version of DeMarco’s “jizz-jazz.” It’s the brother to DeMarco’s music that instead of going out and drinking, stays home and smokes with a friend or two.

That said, Sagar is at ease onstage and joked about how young the audience was. After “I Don’t Wanna” he paused to say:

“That was for all the parents that accompanied their kids.”

The chorus of the song goes:

“Cause baby I just want to go home/ I want to go home/ Cause baby I just want to go home/ I want to go home.”

His jokes were met with much applause and calls of “I love you Peter!”

He also made a joke about playing the “early show.”

“At least this leaves you lots of time to… go out and party? I’m not going to go party. I’m going to go to bed. But you can go party.”

Sagar spoke through a sampler and pitched his voice up or down an octave for comedic effect. (Check out more on Homeshake’s gear on equipboard.)

Sagar, though, almost felt like more of an MC and it was instead the bassist (Brad Loughead?) who looked like he was the band’s showpiece. He stood center stage and wore white to the rest of the group’s black. He also failed to cover his head like everyone else in the band. I too, thought it felt like sacrilege.

He may have been hot, but maybe not. It was hard to tell– I think that he was hot but he played bass like he was kissing with his eyes open and that felt scary. I don’t mean to spend so much time on the bassist whose name I’m not even sure of, but he was distracting, like the red car on his white shirt.

He could play though, as could the discount Seth Rogan on drums (Greg Napier?) The band played tracks mostly off their latest record Fresh Air, like “Every Single Thing” which got the crowd bouncing, as did “Khmlwugh.”

“Khmlwugh” stands for kissing, hugging, making love, waking up and getting high, which gives you an idea of Sager’s M.O. And that’s what I love about his music, it is so homey; however, I rather wish his live show was more than just playing the record as wrote. Still one of the best shows I’ve seen was Thundercat at 9:30 Club and what made that show so compelling is the way that Thundercat rewrites his songs on the fly.

Listen to Homeshake on Spotify, Soundcloud and Bandcamp.