Tune-Yards | Live Review

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Her confession of devouring a Pieminister before the set brought stamping applause.

You get the feeling that Merrill Garbus has worked very hard to get her music where it is. First release, Bird-Brains (recorded using only a handheld voice recorder), was handed out as a cassette-only edition and self-released by Garbus herself. Just six months later, a signing with 4AD and a worldwide release followed. The steep curve of Garbus’ music distribution can only be testament to Tune-Yards’ inescapably ‘what was that? I want to hear that again’ catchiness teamed with a whole lot of inspiration and elbow grease. The music characteristically uses loop pedals, Garbus’ startlingly beautiful voice and a nod to the joy of the unexpected to capture what feels like a new art form on record.

Newest album, Nikki Nack, is the fullest-sounding of the albums to date. Garbus made the last release Who-Kill to be played live, and worried about how the tracks would manifest themselves onstage. There is no such agenda with noticeably studio-enhanced Nikki Nack, but thankfully the live show has suffered nothing from a thrust into a more fleshed-out sound. A cacophony of colourful outfits, painted faces and carnival atmosphere confronted the sweltering sold-out Trinity, and the crowd met it with equal force. Tune-Yards’ music, although dealing with the big issues lyrically, certainly punches out a funk force so strong that everyone was blown away by its bass-y hunger.

A full band complements Garbus and bandmate Nate Brenner, a far cry from her one-woman one-loop pedal approach of yore. Setting pitch onstage, Garbus directed her band with a grin and a wink. The crowd was entirely with her. Her confession of devouring a Pieminister before the set brought stamping applause, and whenever she hit the highest of high notes she was met with rapturous whoops and wails throughout the set. New ones like hard-hitting ‘Left Behind’ gained as much noisy appreciation as hits like tender favourite ‘Powa’.

On record, Tune-Yards’ music can sound like a call to arms, and this was even more apparent in the flesh. The war cry nature of the material churned the crowd into a frenzy and certainly made the extended version of ‘Bizness’ into something almost life-affirming. The unapologetic way Garbus has conducted herself and her music into something of this scale is nothing short of inspiring, and spirits were high among the rafters. Even on the way home scales from set closer ‘Water Fountain’ could be heard whistled down the cycle paths of Old Market. ‘Killa’ by name, killer by nature: Garbus really has brought the live show to her level, and the marker is high.

Check out ‘Bizness’ right here: