LIVE: Tune-Yards, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn

by Winston "Stone" Ford

Ed Note: We unfortunately had no photo access to the show. Above is a photo of Tune Yards from The Roots Picnic via Sneakshot.

“It’s almost like everything I do is the shit.”

A giggling Merill Garbus said that in the mist of being overjoyed by the rather energetic New York Crowd. The 32 year old Oakland based singer spent the remaining days on the tour supporting her amazing latest effort, Whokill.

With Tune-Yards music, you either love her or hate her. Her sound is a steady stream of off-kilter sounds, yodeling, gibberish, and even baby noises. As Washington Post columnist Chris Richards would say, “its children’s music for graduate students.”

But the Tune Yards experience is much more than that. There is a sense of power and emotion in Garbus’ songs that, lets face it, is lacking is most American female music these days. With this latest project, there seems more provocation and button pushing, with lines like “Anger in his heart, but he’ll never be a gangsta / If he’ll move to my neighborhood he’ll make a sound”, and her lamenting on not having any “Black male friends” on the track Killa. This ain’t your average rock star.

One thing you will notice at her stage shows is that her sound has gotten bigger and dare I say, more accessible. Her first album, Bird Brains was recorded on a tape player. With the money she got from a Blackberry commercial last year, she was able to afford a real studio, and a band. Being on the Beggars Group family (XL Recordings, Matador, etc) helps as well. And it shows. Who Kill adds blaring horns, electro synths and a bass guitar, and is definitely sheds the lo-fi actetic of her previous effort.

Having that said, Garbus refuses to shed her one woman band persona. Before each song, she meticulously sets up the drum patterns one by one. Using the blunt end of the drumstick, looping them through her effects pedals and creating a whole percussion section in mere minutes. Even the microphone stand is not immune to becoming a part of the recording. It becomes a test for the audience as they have to repeatedly sit through this process for every song, but in the end, it what makes Tune-Yards so unique as a live act.

All of this uniqueness plays well on record, but sometimes it’s a little too off kilter for a live show. The first few songs were very muddled sound wise, and Garbus’ unique style makes it hard for consistent audience participation. And boy did the audience want to participate. Not only where there plenty of warpaint clad couples in the audience (pause.), but the crowd was downright rawkus for the entire show (including not one but two encores), even when Garbus threw them for a loop. That’s dedication right there.

Opening act Buke and Gass extended the less is more theme of the night as the Brooklyn duo somehow created booming, arena ready sounds from two strings and a bass drum. Lead singer Arone Dyer’s bass ukelele sounds 10 times larger than what it is thanks to homemade effects pedals and amps. Same goes for guitarts Aron Sanchez (yes, that’s not a typo) whose dual amp setup (one for bass, one for treble) create the same feeling.

Both groups proved that you don’t need 6 people on stage to fill a large club space. WIth their slightly off-kilter sound, and DIY vibe, it was the perfect setting for a Saturday night in once trendy Willamsburg.