U.S. Girls asks the big questions at Treasure Island Music Festival

Skylar De Paul/Staff

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To any passers-by looking around the stage as U.S. Girls walked on, it would be impossible to predict what music you were about to hear. There were Cuban conga drums, a saxophone, a drum, a synth and two electric guitars. This eclectic setup of instrumentals explains why Meg Remy has been called “the entire history of female pop music in one woman.” And that eclecticism spilled over into everything else: Remy’s voice was high-pitched and nasally like Madonna’s, thin and articulated like Diana Ross’ and gritty and wailing like Bessie Smith’s, all in the same breath. Her dancing somehow recalled both ‘60s girl groups and ‘70s disco queens.

As one might expect, the music felt like 50 years of music blasted into the crowd’s ear canals at once. All the instruments played together — the conga and the drum kit, the guitar and the saxophone, Meg’s voice and her two backup singers — created an utterly extraterrestrial soundscape that eluded any genre. Every song, already thickly textured, was stretched out to operatic-length, eight-minute marinades that made their repetitive dance grooves feel ominous and oppressive.

Remy mirrored that progression. She began the set calm and composed, moving in little elegant motions in sync to the pounding disco/funk/rock behind her. Halfway through, she started to gasp, pull at her hair and shriek until she ended up collapsing under the weight of the performance, rolling around on the floor and panting out the last lyrics to “Time.” Interspersed throughout the song breaks were looped samples of a female voice flatly chanting odd mantras, such as “All this is happening before our eyes and yet we act as if we have all the time.” This statement is from Severn Cullis-Suzuki’s 1992 speech at the United Nations on environment and development.

Whose weight is Remy crumbling under? Is it the pressure of history, femininity or environmental neglect? Or maybe it’s the fury of all injustice. After all, she sings: “As if you couldn’t tell, I’m mad as hell.”

Adesh Thapliyal covers music. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @AdeshThapliyal.