Having already seen (the obnoxiously spelled) tUnE-yArDs last summer at New York City’s Pier 54 as part of a free concert series, I was pleasantly surprised in how much touring behind “w h o k i l l” - my personal favorite album from 2011 - for over a year has helped Merrill really hone her craft and improve beyond anything I could have expected. In other words, the show was just other-wordly.
For those who aren’t familiar, Merrill Garbus, the mastermind behind tUnE-yArDs donning her signature yellow tribal face paint, is looping wizard: with her recording equipment, she loops her vocals, drums, tambourines, and ukulele lines - all live, so you get to see how she builds layer upon layer to create her songs. In doing this, she creates a sort of indie-rock / tribal hybrid as she pairs her simple drum beats with layers of vocals and harmonies and her signature baritone ukulele. Adding to the layers was her backing band of a multi-instrumentalist who picked up everything from synthesizers to bass guitar to his own set of drums, and a pair of saxophonists who really helped flesh out her songs, all of whom were wearing matching yellow face paint.
The majority of the set consisted of songs from the critically acclaimed “w h o k i l l”, sprinkled with a song or two off her debut, “BiRd-BrAiNs”, but it was songs like “Bizness”, “My Country”, and “Powa” that really got the crowd going. “Bizness” had the entire venue dancing up a storm as the saxophonists traded off funky solos, “My Country” provided another dance party although this one was largely due to the fact that Merrill broke out her microKORG synthesizer and provided some exciting, slightly dissonant synth-lines. And then there was “Powa” before which some guy in the audience shouted “I have sex to this song”, generating laughter from the entire audience and Merrill thanking him for the kind gesture.
It seems as though after this leg of dates, Merrill is going to be taking a little break (which I’m hoping means writing a new album), so be sure to catch her through the end of the summer at countless North American festivals, several European tour dates, and if you’re in New York City, be sure to catch her again on June 30th at the World Financial District as she’s putting on a show as a part of the new free Summer Ecstatic concert series, for which more information can be found here.