The always fantastic and frequently mindblowing tUnE-YarDs payed another visit to DC this past Saturday, and I'd like to say we're all a little better for it. Merril Garbus, the engine that drives this "group" is simply one of the best, and most capable perfomers on the scene today. And her album whokill is a must hear for anyone who even has the inkling of an appreciation for challenging, thought provoking music that still manages to satisfy on every level. Put simply it's one of the best album released this year.
When we saw Merril and Co. last time here, the buzz was beginning to build behind the album, but had really only spread throughout critics circles and completely obsessive music nerds. She played the Red Palace on H Street, a room that fits 200 on a good day, and at that point in time came off as almost scared of the crowd ammased before her. When she was in the song, she was a veritable hurricane of musical muscle, but the spaces between revealed a somewhat shy performer who may not have quite been sure yet as to why exactly all these people were here in front of her.
Jump forward to Saturday night at the Black Cat. During opener Pat Jordache's (more about him in a minute) set, her and bass player Nate Brenner could be seen side-stage GETTING THE F@#@ DOWN to the 80's inflected sounds that Jordache and his crew were pumping out. It was a joyous discovery to glance over and see this celebration taking place, and it fairly set the tone for the rest of the evening.
First and foremost, this was a FUN show. Too often musicians come off as serious or overbearing, but not Garbus. Her and her band relish in the joy that her music is deeply infused with and that joy was absolutly infections. People danced, whooped and jumped up and down on command as the foursome that makes up tUnE-YarDs touring band tore through material from not only whokill, but dipped back into her debut album, BiRd-BrAiNs as well.
From note ONE Garbus controlled the crowd completely. Every second of her performance was drenched in an animal authority that drew the crowd in and never let them go. It was a wonder to watch and was a clear indicator that Garbus is now able to fully inhabit her music with the energy and fearlessness that it not only demand, but deserves.
Pat Jordache and crew commanding the crowd to dance
That was only half the show though, and I would be remiss if I didn’t spend at least a little time on Pat Jordache’s performance. On record, Jordache’s sounds are very close knit, and woven together to create sonic tapestry that obfuscates some of the deeper melodies going on in his songs. This studio discipline was nowhere to be found though as the band hit the stage and delivered a performance that owed as much to TV On The Radio as it did to Joy Division.
It was a set that was joyfully indulgent in it’s 80’s influenced sound, but the band played it straight., with not even a wink to the audience that the music they were hearing may well have come from an era where most of those in attendance weren’t even born. In fact, if the band had broken into Joy Division’s classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart” it wouldn’t have been surprising in the least. It was great set, delivered by an artist who may be just discovering his own greatness, making Pat Jordache an artist that we’re going to be sure to keep our eye on.
But enough about what I thought of the show. We managed to drag the whole ChunkyGlasses team out for this one, so let me turn it over to them to give you their impressions of the show:
Back in May, Merrill Garbus pretty much blew my mind when I saw her perform at the Red Palace. Since that time, Kevin and I have talked about the show past the point of annoyance with the rest of the CG staff and our respective ladies – so, when tUnE-YarDs came back, the only appropriate response was to throw a party and bring everyone along.
Obviously, expectations were high and it’s fair to say that Garbus delivered. Despite the fact that they were wrapping up a long tour and had played a full show just a few hours before, Merrill and her band ripped through the excellent tracks from WhoKill (and a few more besides) and blew the doors right off the Cat. It wasn’t quite as intimate as the Red Palace show (an impossible standard to be sure) but the band’s performance more than lived up to my lofty expectations and showed the rest of the CG crew just what we’ve been babbling about for the last five months.
Grab your war paint, spend a night in the sweat lodge, or do whatever you need to get in touch with your inner beast before you check out tUnE-YarDs at your local venue, because it is in many ways a tribal experience. But don’t worry if you forget to do any of this because, based on their performance at the Black Cat on Saturday, this band will bring it all out for you and then some.
Using some of the most intricate vocal loops and instrumentation I’ve ever heard, tUnE-YarDs spin a web of sound right in front of you that mixes ideas from every corner of music you can think of, including pop, vintage hip-hop, funk, jazz, rock, and electronica music. And one of the fun parts of the first half of the show was seeing how the foundation of the songs you have heard on the album are built using a combination of individual loops, one over the next, which when put together, create a sound in unity that is so unique and complex, it is jaw-dropping, overwhelming, and at times extremely dissonant.
I’ve seen a few other artists in the past, such as Xavier Rudd and Keller Williams, utilize this looping technology, but never in the same way or style that it is used here, so it felt really fresh and new. This is its’ own beast people, and when the rest of the band kicks in over the top it is downright raucous. But, as I heard from a few others near the end of the show, as each new song started, you knew you were going to have to wait as they laid each brick down to build the next song. I didn’t mind seeing this happen, but I could understand how after an hour or so, it could lose peoples interest...but then the whole song kicks in and everyone shaking in their boots again.
I was also impressed and intrigued by the way they created very tense dissonant sounds as a band, driving you into a bit of a frenzy that would suddenly release into a melodic passage. This reminded me of the old days of Phish with the tension and release concept they employ and I remember reading an interview with Merrill Garbus where she described her interest in the music of Phish earlier in her life and wonder if she grabbed some inspiration from those memories and applied it here. Where it came from doesn’t really matter, as it still sounded fresh, new, and original. This was also a part of the live show that made many of the songs stand out from the album and made me excited for the next time we will get to see this group.
As the show was closing up with Pat Jordache also on the stage rocking out "My Country", I realized that even though they utilized a fair amount of technology in creating their music, it was one of the more organic shows I had been to in a long time. It tapped into a primal form of music that made every person in the room feel like they were at some tribal sun dance that was meant to bring the energy of every person in that room together into a giant ball and spit it back out for everyone to enjoy. And by the looks and conversations as people left, the Tune-yards definitely made it happen this night.
tUnE-YarDs was one of the most exciting shows I've ever seen. The energy Merrill Garbus had was impressive, the power she had onstage, and the connection she had with everyone in the room were amazing. Between having the audience sing along with her getting everyone to jump up and down, the entire show was a big happy party. Among the highlights for me were a blazing version of "Es-so", an extended saxophone jam on "Bizness", and the all-out finale of "My Country" with Pat Jordache and his band jumping around with percussion behind her. Far and away the best show I've seen at a smaller venue so far.
So that's it. The short verison: F@#@ING AWESOME!!! But did you really think we'd come to any other conclusion?
You can check out the rest of our shots from the show right here. And please, whatever you do, get out experince tUnE-YarDs for yourself NOW. It could be the best thing you do all year.
tUnE-YarDs performing at the Black Cat. Photos by Kevin Hill