Tuesday, June 14, 2011


The February 2010 show by Tune-Yards was a revelation to me. I loved the record that came first but was then bowled over by how one person could create such intricate rhythms and loops from so little and with just assistance from a lone bass player (not even on stage throughout). So seeing Tune-Yards a second time, tonight at the Deaf Institute, wasn’t going to hold any new surprises surely?

Magic Arm, bearded in checked shirt and trucker's cap, used a battered acoustic with violin bow, harmonica and sampler to mixed the melodic with the abrasive and the unpolished in a set of abrupt endings, mistakes and spilled drinks. Beautifully endearing like a backwoods Beck caught between "One Foot In The Grave" and "Mellow Gold" or a scruffier Peter Broderick.

One of Thousands had a beard and a checked shirt but the duo definitely have polish too. They played impeccable coffee house folk, intensely picked strings with a serious intent but soothing effect, recalling Simon and Garfunkel rather than their Seattle neighbours Fleet Foxes. A good chalk-and-cheese contrast but both acts hugely enjoyable in their own right.

Given “Whokill” is a more soulful and slicker affair than the home recording of “Bird-Brains” would Tune-Yards bring extra musicians to help deliver it live? Yes but the first surprise of the evening was that those extra players turned out to be not one but TWO saxophonists in addition to Merrill Garbus herself and bass player Nate Brenner. And then of course despite touring to support the album released just two months ago, the set is opened by a new song, the riotously catchy call-and-response of ‘Party [in a?] Can’. But even having the Tune-Yards experience just 15 months before the real shock of the evening is she can do it all over again – and then some. It didn't think it possible but tonight had extra clout and extra confidence.

There’s a communal delight in watching the loops and rhythms being created out of simple drumstick clatter, wordless chants, plus beer bottle and steel pan percussion; and then a double delight in being hit by the sheer ingenuity and primal power of the music as vocals, bass and drums are added. It’s loud, funky, and playful for the most part but then floors you with the quieter, hair-raising moments such as ‘Fiya’ and ‘Powa’. Ultimately what tops it all off is the magical transformation of Merrill Garbus from smiling, wide-eyed host full of bonhomie and generosity into a shamaniac warrior-princess with fancy, multi-coloured shoulder ruffs - fierce, feisty and able to coax a loud single-note roar out of the ENTIRE Deaf Institute crowd with little more than a stare and a wave of a drum-stick.

Only two songs from the first album tonight but no quibbles from me about this or anything else. An astonishing live performance to match a great record: in person or in the studio Merrill Garbus can do no wrong as far as I am concerned. As the encore ‘Killa’ says “I’m a new kind of woman”.

The Set List:

Party Can
You Yes You
Real Live Flesh
My Country

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