Conway – The Independent, San Francisco, CA 2/6/2014

To ease the burden on the audience of remembering her name, Conway introduced herself as “the girl in the red pants.” This was fine for the anxious members of the sold out St. Lucia show at San Francisco’s The Independent. Suddenly, the speakers blared fuzzed out synths while the Los Angeles-based singer sauntered to the microphone stand, appearing slightly demure. As the synths cooled, Conway death-gripped the mic and launched into “Killer,” both the first song of her set for the night and from her Big Talk EP. Immediately, the crowd began swaying to the staccato verses and watched in awe as Conway unleashed a voice triple the size of her small frame.

As Conway relaxed, her songs became progressively more punk influenced and powerful. Polished with the sheen of an ’80s teen movie, songs like “Nice Face” and “Shut Up!” were made for windows-down singalongs and prom drama. During the former, Conway’s drummer hit the beat so hard her snare broke, a move that was both very punk rock but more so inconvenient for the band. After a quick swap with St. Lucia’s drum, the set continued. Next up was current single “Big Talk.” At this point, there was no denying Conway’s charisma and control of the crowd. The appeal of “Big Talk” and other songs from her arsenal lies in her melodic tendencies to start sweet and playful, like a schoolyard chant, but quickly progress to an explosion of attitude and ego.

Conway clearly wanted us to hear her many musical influences. As the crowd embraced her, she stepped further into their clutches, balancing at the front of the stage and grooving to the smooth bass and gritty guitar. Between high kicks and grinding with her band, the singer thrashed and headbanged to every beat. Following “Big Talk” was “I’m In Love,” a down-tempo affair that sounded like a country song through a Karen O lens. Following that was the hip-hop heavy “Hustler,” where the Brooklyn-native’s bravado was contagious as a sea of heads nodded along with her.

The most surprising song of the night was a ballad. Conway toned down the aggression with “Take Me Back,” a raw number showcasing a haunting vocal with a backdrop of sparse piano. The way her voice cracked during the chorus was gut-wrenching, a stark contrast from the woman strutting around the stage with a tambourine during the previous songs. Her vulnerability was reminiscent of Sinead O’Connor, underscoring how behind the shrill shouts and swagger is an accomplished singer with considerable breadth.

The smirk on her face and the sweat on her forehead said it all: Conway conquered the crowd and stood defiant. The closing song “Without You” was the victory lap she needed to coast the crowd into the arms of St. Lucia’s hypnotic electronica. By the time the last note rang out, the “girl in the red pants” made sure everyone remembered her name.

Setlist:
Killer
Twilight
Nice Face
Big Talk
I’m In Love
Shut Up!
Hustler
Take Me Back
Sudden Dawn
Without You

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