Sunday, February 14, 2010

tUnE-yArDs @ THE RUBY LOUNGE 13 February 2010

When Merill Garbus (aka tUnE-yArDs) asked where people were from at tonight’s Ruby Lounge gig, the answers included Liverpool, Leeds and Nottingham. OK she’s only playing a handful of dates on this short UK tour but people are clearly prepared to travel to see tUnE-yArDs and after tonight’s performance I can fully understand why.

I’ve attempted to wax lyrical about how good her debut album ‘Bird-Brains’ is before – and it was one of my Top Ten Albums of 2009. The early part of this evening was spent musing on how she would play that record live: would there be a full band? Would it just be her solo? One of the earlier support bands used two drum-kits, so naturally I assumed at least one would be for tUnE-yArDs. However both kits were cleared away as the 10pm start time approached.

In their place was set up two single drums either side of a mic stand. And some pedals. So the answer to the earlier question was: two-piece band, just Merrill and bass player Nate Brenner. However I will never underestimate a two-piece band ever again – even one with next-to-no kit.

Dressed casually in black leggings and baggy top, Merrill at first glance is quite an unassuming even dowdy figure. OK she has four greasepaint stripes across one cheek but other than that she looks every bit the ‘suburban mom’ her press claims. And chatting to the crowd she was all friendly smiles and modesty: “I’d be happy if there were just ten people here”.
However put an amplified ukulele in her hands and let her chant over the primitive looped rhythms she creates on the two drums (and mic stand) and she is transformed into a shamanic warrior-princess. Check out the full-throated roars at about 5 mins 30 secs into the video below or watch her punch the air with a drum-stick salute. How the woman can keep all those rhythms in her head and set them up with such apparent ease is baffling. But the result is an astonishing live performance: is February to early to call gig of the year?

It was a short ten song set of which only four were from “Bird-Brains” (‘Fiya’, ‘Jumping Jack’, ‘Hatari’ and the first encore ‘News’) and other than recent single ‘Real Live Flesh’ the other half of the set was all new material. There should be another video of one of the new songs ('Danger is Coming'?) posted here shortly. The fact I’m already lining this up as potential gig of the year shows just how good that unfamiliar material is and that ‘Bird-Brains” is not a one-off.
I cannot recommend "Bird-Brains" enough to you. And if you act quickly you can catch her in Glasgow on Sunday or London on Monday. After that tUnE-yArDs spends February and March touring Europe and North America. Can’t wait for that second album or another chance to see her live.

Tonight was the first in a 'season' of gigs promoted by WotGodForgot: plenty more to look forward to including Xiu Xiu, Mount Eerie, Faust and A Sunny Day In Glasgow.

Bird-Brains [BUY]


Catshoe said...

Dang! Just read this too late to go and see her tonight. Oh well, my loss

The Archivist said...

Hopefully she'll be touring the festival circuit this summer - don't miss!