The woman behind one of the strongest and most creative releases this year combined with inspirational live performances; is Merrill Garbus of her critically acclaimed outfit: tUnE-yArDs.
On a very dull and drizzly Monday in Bristol- one of the last few UK dates left during their June European tour- tUnE-yArDs, through their own inventiveness and hype filled an entire venue with anticipation and wonderment. Expecting to play to around 30 people, Merrill had in-fact sold out her first Bristol visit, as a crowded sea of appreciation waited to hear and embrace the power this one woman obtains.
Touring to coincide with the release of her sophomore album- W H O K I L L. Despite being quite a political statement due to its confrontational manner questioning issues of race, gender, body image, violence and privileges.’ The album is delivered in Garbus’ vision to address her music with a celebratory side, the side in which expresses her need to make people dance and feel joy. That vision from said release is portrayed in her live performance with extraordinary diligence.
Merrill took to the stage alone, greeted with exuberant cheers and applause, holding her stature with her renowned modified baritone ukulele, a floor tom, snare drum and a pair of loop pedals. Standing solely, she subsumed her set and her time to impress the audience; something that seemed to come so naturally to this figure.
Party Can (Do You Wanna Live) introduced the evening with Merrill looping and layering multiple vocal tones and lyrics, maintaining that constant canopy of sound she creatively builds up. Singing over her looped vocals she faced the front pointing the drum sticks into the crowd before dropping the beat for everyone to move too, a marching rhythm taking it in turns with one hit on the floor tom two on the snare, this continuing, she briefly takes that backing vocal layer momentarily away from her track to sing the strong forceful line “Do you wanna live?” with both her and the entire crowd shouting back YEAH, at parts adding to that backing layer of her own sounds, she surprises everyone with her dynamic range by taking a yodelling approach. Just after half way into Party Can (Do You Wanna Live) the other fixed member of tUnE-yArDs; bassist and Gabus’ partner- Nate Brenner – joins the stage along with touring musicians Matt Nelson on Tenor Sax and Kasey Knudsen on Alto Sax. Each entwining their sound into the deep composition already culminated by one member. Together united; they all created an infectious finale.
From the first note delivered, Merrill had an entire crowd in her control. Every person stood fixated by what one woman can do. During each track she created all drum beats herself, of which she managed to fuse off-beats too. Building up her own sound throughout each track by looping the instrument that maintains her talent; her voice. The range, pitch, tone and dynamic Merrill’s vocal posses is outstanding. Her ability to hold notes, reach high and sing low is truly amazing. There are no current vocalists in her comparison right now. Her vocals alone cater for a vast scope of genres.
From this, be it alone of accompanied by her touring band, she can captivate and control her audience, requesting them to hold a high note and sing with her, it was done. Shouting Yes on numerous occasions back to the track creating a whole new atmosphere for the evening, dignified by the response to join in with such sprightly poise.
Its been stated that her interest is making music accessing that celebratory side. Protesting through dancing, singing, fun and giggles. She did this with such grace; captivating and including all that stood in awe.
Showcasing the variety tUnE yArDs sophomore album accommodates, gangsta was the next track on the set. Lyrically- and whilst performed live- this track is dangerous, it holds a deeper feel over the band, showing no boundaries. This stand out track provided the backing musicians with the chance to shine and gain the credit they too deserve. Feisty yet somewhat grimy beats were contributed not just by Merrill hitting her drums and mic stand; Nate added to the percussion with his own pulse, hitting saucepan’s, pots, bottles and cans whilst Matt and Kasey brushed and pounded the lid to Nate’s saucepan, all of which rhythmically and visually striking. The unique and homemade percussion set up provided an organic touch and in keeping with tUnE yArDs homemade debut, was much to its success.
Es-So carried the exhibition on the latest release through to the live atmosphere. Again, Merrill created an oscillating cadence to work from, looping her beats then adding a strong quick strum on the ukulele before Brenner filled the composition with free form jazz, melodic lines and copious hooks. This track explores both harmonious articulation on top of the underlying oohs and ahhs previously looped and flaunts the ability to reach high notes and to sustain them.
A track that many who are familiar with tUnE yArDs back catalogue patiently waited for- gave a refreshing break from the newer material. In 2010 for a commercial for BlackBerry Torch, they scored the advert with Fiya. The stunning track taken from the 2009 debut “BiRd BrAiNs.” Which was noted for its homemade recording. Almost all of the album had been recorded using a digital voice recorder and produced on basic software programme: Audacity-all of which accomplished by Merrill. This stunning track was truly presented in the touching manner in which it had been created. A looping vocal crescendo, charming soft lyrics aided with the sweet melodic graspable riff, a prominent beat from Nate digressed the track into a heavier atmosphere. Soft high notes and repeated lyrics “I am not beautiful, I am not beautiful” shined throughout the finale with fast shredding and arduous bashing to the drums.
With a staggering applause and acknowledgment to the previous material, Merrill turned to her band and nodded “Bizness”. The crowd at the front seeing this exceeded their approval, as the latest and most recognized single from the outfit initiated.
In previous interviews Merrill announced that she was obsessed with African music when she lived there, in-fact she studied Swahili music, this influence clearly found throughout Bizness.
Pulverizing their energetic set, this was the stand out track that made all members apply every last ounce of endurance. Looped vocals layering more looped vocals, each to its own notes. Persistent drum shuffle and consistent hits to the drum rim. This track in its entirety holds a vivacious life of its own. Priding itself on vocal manipulation, buyout bass beats and an overpowering deliverance. Lyrics to line “He said no” held and maintained for an impressive time as the track takes a bad-ass break down. A break down of jazz. Saxophones swinging, calypso-esque pulsations, warm and large sounding. Afro pop with tonality. The vocals provided as the backbone to the whole instrumentation. The break down ended with a count to four, loops taken away, saxophones came to an abrupt halt, drums laid minimal as Merrill harmoniously screeched “What’s the business yeah?” before all musicians culminated into an extended transfixing finale.
Powa followed, lyrically it refers to that of a lullaby and on the record is produced with a slow waltzing beat to create that atmosphere. This was delivered in the same fashion live, although the energy it still retained slowed down the bolstering set with a slower and more chilled out progression.
This then led to a small interaction with the audience where Merrill asked if anyone had any questions at that point. Joking, whilst giving herself a well earned break an audience member yelled “What is the business?” to which the entire crowd united in laughter. W H O K I L L’s Riotriot toned down the laughter as the band relished their time, this was followed by Bird Droppings EP Release Real Life Flesh; which added a more brazen mood to the room before Nate, Matt and Kasey departed the stage.
Standing alone once more on a bare stage, Merrill again like on all other tracks, forming the sound from a DIY approach devolved into another composition, from her debut- Hatari. It was very unlikely that up until this point a person in the audience hadn’t been wowed, but if that was the case this was the track that emphasized Merrill’s’ passion and her unique ability to make all heads turn and face their friends in amazement to what they witnessed. Stretching out her right arm, holding her drumsticks tightly and trembling during the track, stepping to and from the mic, she growled like an animal in keeping with the lyrics. But incredibly she held one note for longer than physically possible. Keeping this extenuated note in tone for what felt like a lifetime, the entire crowd left astonished by such talent. Her versatile voice is guaranteed to be around for a long time, providing and excelling in the reason there is so much hype to this act. tUnE yArDs is an everlasting outfit.
The crowd applauding her abilities welcomes her band back to the stage as they then flurry into performing Doorstep, more material from W H O K I L L .
When writing W H O K I L L despite its confrontation, Merrill stated she’d fallen in love “How Can I Have Anything To Say Being So Happy?” but despite that statement the album and lyrics confronts her volatile relationship with her hometown. However, during You Yes You which prides itself on bouncing synth and drums, repeating the powerful lyric “If Home is where the heart is, my home is inside you”, Merrill glances at Nate and they both smile. Without intentionally meaning to, these glances, giggles and terms of endearment throughout their live performance together asserts the crowd with their own terms of fondness, seeing two musicians both love what they’re doing and both glancing for each other’s approval. Witnessing this brings an entirely fresh and charming outlook to their set and more importantly to the lyrics.
It had got to that time in the night, the encore. As the individuals left the stage, the crowded room devoted all the remains of their energy from such an energetic environment into welcoming the act back to the stage.
Killa united the band back to its thriving momentum but it was My Country that bought the evening’s processions to a conquering finale.
Occasionally for everyone it sometimes feels that you are waiting for what seems like a lifetime, to stumble across that one release that you can connect with and that can instantly amaze you. The same applies to witnessing a live act, one in which leaves you breathless. When that moment occurs, you find yourself left questioning the material you’ve heavily been ensuing prior to such discovery; the feeling of amazement leaves you needing to share the iconic act with anyone that will listen to the recommendation.
In April of this year tUnE-yArDs released their sophomore album W H O K I L L through the label 4AD. This entire release becoming the backbone to that feeling described above. Simply; a striking effort. This release is holding onto its success, which is deserved, through the outfits breath-taking live performances.
Merrill is a positive and inspirational role model and cherishes her extraordinary talent. Her newer material shows the collaboration between herself and her bassist Nate Brenner. The dynamics of such materials are more layered, more exaggerated and more prominent than previous releases. The assertive front woman applies herself to her live performances and leaves no chance for disappointment.
Review also featured on altsounds here- http://hangout.altsounds.com/reviews/131297-tune-yards-fleece-bristol-live.html