SHOW REVIEW: tUnE-yArDs at The Music Box

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The key word I must use to describe the show at the Music Box last Wednesday is “layered”. It was the so-called “remix culture” at its finest: danceable, sophisticated loops of vocals and instrumentals, sometimes live and sometimes electronically generated, but never once lazy or unoriginal. I was, of course, lucky enough to be seeing tUnE-yArDs, one of the most exciting recent indie projects out there and one that is, rightfully, blowing up in the biggest and best of ways.

I unfortunately arrived too late to see the first act, Pat Jordache (who used to perform in Sister Suvi with tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus), but the second, Cut Chemist, proved himself to be a skilled DJ who capably warmed up the audience in the already-packed Music Box. He spun vinyl throughout his set, while a screen behind him helpfully displayed an overhead view of his hands and the records whirling beneath them. He started with rhythmic Afro-pop over electronic beats, mixing in classic blues and Africana riffs with speed and ease that seemed entirely organic and spontaneous. His apparently effortless transitions between records and effects, performed without flourish, set the stage for Garbus’s later, similar mastery of the electronic loop.

The curtain rose for tUnE-yArDs on Garbus by herself, center stage, crooning a line directly into the microphone with her full, smoky, throaty voice. As she would throughout the evening, she eased into what can only be described as a looping yodel—straight from her chest, swooping high and low with ease and abandon—then started drumming as her band came on stage, all dressed in brightly colored skinny jeans and headbands. She immediately started into the high-energy rhythms of “My Country”, a track from her April 2011 release w h o k i l l. Her voice lacks none of the full, honeyed qualities on display in the recorded version, and is even more sweet and powerful in person. She nailed every note and variation, continually looping over herself and surprising with her finesse and dexterity.

On the second song, “Es-So”, Garbus began with a drumming loop, then added her own vocal effects. She speaks some humorous lines during the recorded version and repeated them live, somehow delivering them with sassiness and unexpectedness intact. She shouted and shrieked during the bridge, never conveying less than a full-body involvement.

“Powa” began with slow, broken-down drumbeats and a misty spotlight on Garbus, who picked out a backdrop on her guitar before layering in her vocals. During the song, all lighting distilled to her at the center of the stage, strumming: just Garbus’s full-stadium voice, her guitar, and her bassist. Later, “Fiya”, from first album BiRd BrAiNs, began with sweet, lyrical picking, with Garbus’s guitar held up against her chest like a ukulele and the crowd applauding every pause in her singing. She sang the repeated line “you are always on my mind” with sweet earnestness that escalated into unbridled passion at the end of the song, seguing cleanly into the awesome horn riff that opens w h o k i l l standout “Bizness”. The song, clearly a crowd favorite, acted as a fitting centerpiece to the show.

The set proper closed with a rousing “You Yes You”. From my vantage point on the balcony, I could see the entire general admission area jumping up and down in utter ecstasy. Garbus reappeared for one encore song, the unreleased live single “Party Can [Do You Want to Live]”—a catchy call-and-response in which she shouted at the audience repeatedly: “DO YOU WANNA LIVE?!” Filled with Garbus’s infectious, overpowering joy, the audience’s answer could be nothing but an enthusiastic “YES!”

Review by Julia Ringo.

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