There are good shows and there are great shows, and Sunday night’s sold-out tUnE-yArDs concert was nothing short of the latter. In the months since releasing her third full-length, last year’s beloved W H O K I L L, Merrill Garbus’s outfit has gone from fringy indie act to full-blown success story. Still, after the band’s SOhO showing, I couldn’t help but wonder how tUnE-yArDs had flown under the radar for so long. A compelling, if slightly confusing, concoction on paper, the band has hybridized a style that mixes free jazz, funk, and call-and-response vocals with a lot of heavy-handed and African-influenced percussion. At the center of it all stands Garbus, a compelling and genre-bending powerhouse, capable of jumping from high to low octaves without missing a beat. But her range is only half the story.
On Sunday, Garbus took to the stage solo and began an intricate game of vocal looping that would stretch throughout tUnE-yArDs’ set. Armed with a floor tom, a set of sticks, two mikes, and her guitar, Garbus went about crafting the beats and harmonies for opening number “Do You Wanna Live?” With a bassist, a percussionist, and two horn players firmly in place, the sonic trickery moved from impressive to downright infectious. Selections like “Gangsta,” “Es-so,” and “My Country” highlighted Garbus’s love of tension and release, with each building to moments of intricately looped chaos before stopping, restarting, and moving in an entirely new direction. It made for the kind of unpredictability that keeps you anxiously on your toes — and tapping along the entire time.
1. “Do You Wanna Live?”
8. “Real Live Flesh”
9. “My Country”
11. “Jumping Jack”