From the moment Merril Garbus walked out on stage and started things off by warbling, sideways-yodeling and growling a meandering a capella soliloquy in that inimitable deep tribal timbre, before looping said voice over itself in the same vein to kick-start opener You Yes You, it was fairly apparent this wasn’t going to be your typical ‘buzz-band’ show.
For starters, Ms Garbus’ tUnE-yArDs isn’t really a band, per se; more of a collective. Dribs and drabs of whatever’s needed and whoever’s around. Secondly, the talent apparent in the bubbly little mistress’ puzzlingly infectious and cerebral compositions is impossible to lend hyperbole to. Call that hyperbole if you like, but I find it hard to sufficiently praise this stuff.
Garbus manages as much as she can on stage herself, from looped drums, vocals and whatever else she decides to whack, to an either beautifully picked or wildly strummed ukulele which also doubles as a percussive loop tool when the mood suits. Bass duties were left to the fantastic Nate Brenner, who had a fair bit to do with recent album w h o k i l l as well; the two read each other well, and their polyrhythmic stick work was an absolute treat, as was the crowd’s eruption when Brenner stepped to the mic late in the set to sing a couple of cute lines before slinking back to his own little slippery bass groove world.
Two saxophonists rounded out the party (who doubled as ad-hoc percussionists as well), and were especially effective in bits like the opening melody in Bizness, working in tandem with Garber’s self-layered vocals to create the sense of controlled chaos, when what in fact is happening is a collage of melodies playing hopscotch with one another, every bar absolutely stuffed to the brim with creativity and joy.
All in all, a tUnE-yArDs show is an exercise in rhythmic precision, ‘hearty’ savant-esque vocals, both as loops and purely as something to both marvel and bounce at/to, all the while proving that technical proficiency, smiling with ridiculous abandon and getting the fuck down are not mutually exclusive.
BY MATT PANAG
LOVED: Every minute, especially Killa, which basically showcased amazing examples of everything I just wrote about.
DRANK: Fat Yak.