November 2nd, 2011
The Music Box (aka Henry Fonda Theater)
After seeing so many artists try to utilize the “one-man-band” show by using wild amounts of looping, it can get a bit old. Back in high school when I first saw it live, it was quite captivating, but over time, it can lose its luster. Most acts aren’t even good at it really, but figure if they can leave an audience slightly dumbfounded by looping an instrument, even in the lamest of ways, they will sell tickets. Sadly, this can work. However, rarities do pop up every once in again in which looping is utilized in brilliant ways. Like when I saw Thom Yorke play “Give Up the Ghost” for the first time at Coachella a year and a half ago and nearly messed myself. Or like last Wednesday, when I saw Merrill Garbus, the leading lady of tUnE-yArDs perform at The Music Box.
First off, if you haven’t heard tUnE-yArDs latest album, w h o k i l l, please give it at least a once-over. If Merrill’s voice is not enough to blow you away, the incredibly intricate production of this album will be. With all the layered vocals and instruments coming from one person on this album, you would think that would cause a problem for a live performance, right? Well yea, it does. I’m not going to straight up tell you that it sounded spot on, because it didn’t. But, it sounded damn near close, and the forms that her songs took on live did nothing less than amaze me.
The album also has this incredible ability to fuse so many genres so seamlessly, that it is almost impossible to pinpoint its direct origins. It is avant-garde R & B, with a poetic, hipity-hoppish twist that comes off like frantic jazz-rock that is extremely catchy. Or simply put, it’s a damn good/intelligent pop album (right NP?). Going back to Merrill’s voice, it is as powerful as they come. Deep and booming, while also loud, and piercing. It’s truly one of the most unique voices in music. The way she uses it live almost seems painful. I do not know how she can go onstage, night after night, and belt out vocals the way she does and still talk the next day.
Her set began with the opener from the new album, “My Country”, immediately drawing every person in the audience right into the show. The first thing I noticed, was that she was not going to be holding back, vocally or otherwise. Every note, chord, sound, and beat she has on that album, she is now trying to replicate live. Which is just almost impossible at some points, but she still gave it a valiant effort. This gave the show a rawness that made her more appealing to me instantly. She wasn’t concerned if she would mess up, she was going to try and get the entire song played anyways, note-for-note.
The highlight of the show for me, and I’m sure almost everyone there, was “Gangsta”. Cut Chemist, who opened for tUnE-yArDs that night, came onstage to help perform this freakout. The old-style DJ (who kicked ass with his own set as well) provided a bit more body to the songs, that then made me wonder how much better the show would be if he was out there the whole time. It wouldn’t have to necessarily be Cut Chemist, but if she had some DJ stick out there with her for the entire set, it could definitely help fill some gaps in songs that were driving with a little less force than they could be. I know I talked about how good Merrill is at looping, and I really think she is, and also admire her for sticking with her minimalist approach in live shows, but sometimes I feel artists like her should not try and take on such a work load, and let more people fill in the gaps that can be filled. That is really my only complaint with the show. Although she sounded great, I still think she could, and will eventually do better, if she crews up a bit. After “Gangsta” it was three songs and out which made ten total songs and an encore. Short set yes, but she doesn’t have a lot of material either.
^I recorded some video that I told a lot of people I was going to edit and post in this article … this isn’t that video.
Killer vocals, wildly impressive looping, and more energy than a bunch of idiot teenagers hopped up on Four Locos, Pixie Sticks, and Jolt. Go see this show!
Can’t Miss Live: “Bizness”, “Gangsta”, “Fiya”, “Hatari”, “You Yes You”
Can’t Hit Live: “Real Live Flesh”