For those yet to hear the hype, Tune-Yards is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Merrill Garbus – at one time critically acclaimed but criminally underappreciated, the outfit is steadily gaining momentum, as recent airplay and tonight’s sold out gig attest. Relying heavily on chopped-up percussions and minimal melody, Garbus started out performing solo with, as she describes ‘a loop machine and a ukelele’. Now, she has been bulked up by bassist Nate Brenner, an additional percussionist and two backing singers-cum-dancers.
Tune-Yards‘ sound is incredibly hard to define, fusing hippie-ish lyrics, african rhythms, discordant melodies and samples, but is nevertheless engaging and memorable. Opening track “Left Behind” utilises the fuzzy basslines that provide much of the musical themes for the performance. Material that already sounds exuberant on record is brought further to life by the vibrancy of Garbus and her compatriots. “Gangsta”, from second studio album ‘WHOKILL’ is a tub thumper, and the band request for the volume to be turned up in order to wash their drumbeats over the crowd.
Garbus is a rare breed – a female performer with genuine confidence in herself and her material who doesn’t rely on a manufactured sexuality to gain total control over the crowd. She clearly enjoys being on stage, and teases the audience with elongated pauses within songs, staring the people down with a single beady eye. She comments on the Bristol crowd’s propensity to dance as opposed to other UK audiences – one advantage of producing outstanding material with little mainstream coverage is that your fans tend to be of the adoring variety.
Tune-Yards is really a showcase for Garbus’ incredible musical talents, and in particular her voice. She uses her voice like an additional instrument, hopping rapidly between soothing melodies, screams, sirens and everything in-between. The two standout tracks of the night are the beautiful “Powa”, where she screams herself red in the face before her own looped choir relieves her, and “Bizness”, which layers complex three-part a capella vocals.
In “Real Thing”, Garbus sings “I’m no real thing; They say I’m the real thing.” Sorry to disagree with you Merrill, but you are most definitely the real thing.
Read our review of Tune-Yards’ album ‘Nikki Nack’
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