Some musical artists get known for jumping on trendy bandwagons. Other artists do it by revitalizing a familiar style, or simply doing it really, really well. But a few, a very few, garner attention by doing something no one else is doing, and sounding like no one but themselves. Tonight’s performance by tUnE-yArDs made it clear to which category Merrill Garbus belongs. With a bassist and two sax players joining Garbus’ frontline of drums, amplified ukelele and looping technology, tUnE-yArDs put on a show unlike any other.
Garbus opened with a storm of looped voices and beats from her snare and floor tom. Joined first by the bassist and then by the sax players, she launched into “Party Can,” a bonus track on the Japanese version of tUnE-yArDs’ hit album w h o k i l l. They followed with a bit of free jazz sax skronk before going into “Gangsta,” one of tUnE-yArDs’ most accessible tunes. “Es-So” was next, as Garbus looped a hip-hop beat out of her drums, layered some wailing vocals and then chopped out some jagged chords on her uke. Add an almost poppy vocal melody to the polyrhythmic tapestry and it’s the tUnE-yArDs sound in a nutshell.
While the group may have a form, it certainly wasn’t formula, as every song sounded different than the one prior. From the Latin-tinged percussion of “Riotriot” and the African vocal melody of “Bizness to the dub ukelele and big-band sax lines of “Killa,” tUnE-yArDs showed an amazing facility to lift bits and pieces from different cultures and genres, and fit them all together like an intricate but smoothly constructed puzzle. It sounds like a worn cliche, but it’s true – tUnE-yArDs truly sounds like no one you’ve heard before, and we’re thrilled to showcase such a unique artist. “I love Merrill Garbus’ power and fearlessness,” tweeted ACL producer TheOtherLeslie. “And her sense of fun. Above all a tUnE-yArDs show is a damn good time.”