Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tune-Yards at Mr. Smalls - Concert Review - October 17, 2014

Tune-Yards at Mr. Smalls - 10.17.14
Give Merrill Garbus a damn children's show, already. But don't let her play "Gansta" or explain the thematic significance of "Water Fountain" to the kids.

Maybe it was hearing Garbus count through the hours on "Hey Life" or her backup singers' wacky, colorful outfits and fabric eyebrows or Nate Brenner's glitter goatee or a backdrop that looked like the Chesire Cat — tUnE-yArDS' vibrant, eyeful of a spectacle at Mr. Smalls wouldn't have looked out of place on "Yo Gabba Gabba." But we should hope that she doesn't give up on making this wildly fun grown-up music anytime soon.

This year’s Nikki Nack featured hookier pop songs than the excellent w h o k i l l, but the new songs still bursted at the seams with cotton candy-eccentricities. On stage, Nikki Nack was polished and precise, but not as machine-like as those of Garbus’ superhuman indie friend, Annie Clark of St. Vincent. Almost every song on Nack establishes the hook instantly, and tUnE-yArDs’ three backup singers filled in the looping gaps with stunning accuracy and synchronicity. Right out of the gate, “Sink-O” and the new record’s best song, “Real Thing,” got things off to a brassy, confident start. w h o k i l l was an extroverted record, but these songs don’t give you a chance to hide. The drums are more exuberant, the synths are louder, and Garbus really airs it out.

Initially, the show seemed to be sectioned off in blocks, starting with four Nikki Nack songs, before jumping into an older run, with a few from w h o k i l l and one from Bird Brains. The older block was more stripped down, leaving just Garbus and Brenner on stage for a beautiful, acrobatic “Powa” and the bouncy “Es-so.” This was my first time seeing tUnE-yArDs, so it was nice to get a taste of what the early shows might have been like.

Once you cast aside the zany backdrops, the songs’ jam-packed arrangements and the faux-mustaches, tUnE-yArDs is all about Garbus’ massive instrument of a voice. She has a careful and intelligent control of it — especially when nonchalantly setting up a looping track. But it’s a memorable voice for her elastic, but assertive power. The coos on “Powa” and the curdling squeals of “Bizness” are equally affirming. It took three records, but Garbus sang the truest line of her career on “Real Thing” — “Oh my God, I use my lungs.”

-- Shawn Cooke


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