Show Review: tUnE-yArDs at The Great American Music Hall, 4/26/11

Posted by: on Apr 27, 2011 | One Comment

The central thesis to live reviews always invariably boils down to the question “is what I heard on the album going to translate live?” Since the answer in this case is a resounding YES, I thought I’d get that part out of the way immediately. I’d even go so far as to say that if you weren’t that into Bird-Brains or W H O K I L L, seeing tUnE-yArDs live might turn you around.

Merrill Garbus is a genius on stage. There – I said it! If it sounds hyperbolic then you’ve obviously not seen her live. It’s so refreshing to witness a musician who understands that a Performance is more than wandering on stage to play a handful of hits and make a lazy reference or two to whatever city you’re in. Ideally, the audience should be able to feel your enthusiasm and not wonder whether you’d rather be somewhere else. Before starting “Fiya”, Garbus stated “This is pure joy, by the way, in case you were worried I wasn’t having a good time.” I don’t think anyone was worried.

Live looping is always more impressive to me than the slickest guitar riff or drum solo (as someone who doesn’t play an instrument, this sense of awe might be ill-founded). Though she was joined by three others on stage (Nate Brenner on bass, Matt Nelson on tenor sax and Kasy Knudsen on alto sax) Garbus herself produced the majority of what the audience was hearing, layering her own voice over itself again and again, in expressions ranging from tight harmonies to low, primal growls.

The high-notes:

      1. A good stage outfit has the power to transform what is just an ordinary concert into a PARTY. Garbus’s costume looked like something Carmen Miranda would have worn to Carnival or maybe a tea party attended by muppets. Awesome.


      2. At the end of “Powa”, Garbus hit a high note that caused this involuntary eruption of glee from the audience. I can only compare it to the reaction sports fans have to the word “free” at the end of the national anthem.


      3. Throughout “Bizness”, a chick did a pretty sweet interpretive dance on stage and then crowd surfed to the back of the GAMH during the song’s climax.


      4. Towards the end of the show


    and I moved up to the balcony to get a better view, and witnessed the stagefloor turn into a feverish, tribal dance-off at end of “Hatari”.

Thanks again to the amazing Pam Torno for providing some truly great pics from the show! Be sure to check out the whole set over on her flickr page.

tUnE-yArDs setlist (Updated – thanks Zoë!):
1. Do You Want To Live?
2. You Yes You
3. Gangsta
4. Es-So
5. Powa
6. Fiya
7. Bizness
8. Doorstep
9. Hatari
10. Killa
Encore 1:
Real Live Flesh
My Country
Encore 2:
Wolly Wolly Gong

tUnE-yArDs: Website :: Myspace :: Twitter :: Facebook

As a Very Cool Aside: One of KM’s Artlarking colleagues, Alison, was involved in the production of the “Bizness” music video and wrote a really great blog post about the process (includes a ton of beautiful pics). She writes:

What struck me about being a small part of the process of the video was the respect each person involved had for each others art form and how everyone stepped up to create a finished product that is much bigger than the sum of its parts.

You can read the entire post over at Artlarking.