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Review Fri Nov 11 2011

Powa Incarnate: Tune-yards @ Lincoln Hall 11/9

Merrill Garbus of Tune-yards (photos by Steve Stearns)

Make no mistake about it: Merrill Garbus a force to be reckoned with.

At the Tune-yards concert on Wednesday, Nov. 9, (the first of two sold-out shows at Lincoln Hall), the audience fairly vibrated while waiting for the band to appear. Snippets of conversation could be heard from all direction, fans describing to friends Garbus' mad-scientist methodology. In the restroom, two girls applied colorful face paint to each other's cheeks in emulation of the Tune-yards founder and front woman.

Chicago has been all a-swoon over the band ever since Tune-yard's raucous performance at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival. Appearances on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" and other shows have only boosted their visibility. Not bad for a gal whose first album, Bird-Brains, was self-taped with only a handheld voice recorder.

Merrill Garbus of Tune-yards (photos by Steve Stearns)

And that's the thing about Tune-yards: Garbus really doesn't need anyone but herself. Using just ukulele, a looping pedal, percussion, and the real stand-out instrument - her voice — she's a virtual one-woman band. Wisely, they chose to open with Garbus alone onstage, singing a wandering, wordless tune a capella in a blur of bluesy growls and guttural and breathy inflections. Using the pedal, she began looping and layering the vocals to create a dense wall of Merrills before she began building the percussion in the same manner. By the time she finished constructing the rhythm and backing vocals, her backing band — bassist Nate Brenner and two saxophonists — trotted out as the song slid into "You Yes You" from her second album, whokill.

While yes, Garbus can carry this thing on her own, the recent addition of the backing band fills out the Tune-yards' sound, turning an intimate bedroom party into a funky booty bash. The saxophonists, in particular, were an inspired choice, rounding out Garbus' strong vocals and stomping through periodic Coltrane-esque jazz squawks.

Tune-yards (photos by Steve Stearns)

It seemed everything about the performance was a bit more that night — "Gangsta" thudded even louder than usual, and "Es-So" was a lot looser as the band teetered on maintaining cohesiveness (which, given the song's topics of body image, food, and control, was entirely fitting).

Other stand-out songs of the evening were "Hatari," which Garbus performed solo, singing the chorus in Swahili (which, according to her interview on WBEZ's Sound Opinions, she studied in college) and the gorgeous, soulful "Powa." For "Real Live Flesh," she worked an African-influenced vocal effect into a breathy staccato; mixed with a slow, sly bassline, the song just exuded sex.

Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by the encore choices ("Killa" and "Doorstep"). Both songs require Garbus to take a lighter road vocally; as a result, she was often drowned out by the instrumentation. She would've done better to end on a stronger note, perhaps bringing it back to another solo performance.

Interestingly, given Tune-yards' loud, highly danceable music, the audience was almost eerily quiet and respectful. Oh, make no mistake — they danced, alright — but it seemed no one wanted to be a-hole who "woo"-ed in the middle of her building intricate loops. The entire night, the band careened from one song to the next with very little banter or breaks. Finally, Garbus took a moment to tune her uke and, while doing so, took questions. When asked to name her favorite Muppet, she suddenly trotted forward and backward, flailing her arms in imitation of Grover's "Near! Far!" scene. It was just too much: If you didn't have a crush on her before, it was pretty much guaranteed you did now.

Merrill Garbus of Tune-yards (photos by Steve Stearns)

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Pinto and the Bean / November 14, 2011 11:24 PM

First album on a handheld tape recorder? Rad!

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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