Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)
Tune-Yards, as those of us too lazy to keep pressing the shift key refer to them, have reached a level of critical acclaim that might be surprising for a band whose first album was created using a hand-held voice recorder. Frontwoman Merrill Garbus’s lo-fi origins are still evident in her skillful use of loop pedals to create beautifully intricate layers of drums and vocals, and the overwhelming passion that has brought her this far is on clear display tonight.
The enthusiasm with which Tune-Yards are greeted onto Lille Vega’s stage is evidence that this is an audience composed principally of dedicated fans, rather than casual listeners following hype. There are countless reasons for being attracted to this band’s work, from the infectious danceability of tracks like “Sink-O” to the R’n’B melancholy of “Wait for a Minute”, but the true reason to be here is that they are one of the very best live acts around.
The latest record, nikki nack, replaces the saxophones of Tune-Yards’ sophomore effort with backing vocals, and it is unsurprising that most of the set is comprised of material from the former. Exceptions are “Gangsta”, in which the vocals play a much bigger part than the original saxophones. For all the talent of her backing musicians (particularly evident on the delicately complexity of “Bizness”, in which the backing vocalists manage to recreate the synth line perfectly), it is Garbus’s talent and energy that are centre stage throughout. Her vocals can be soulfully raw or quirky, but they are always arresting.
There are several similarities between Garbus and St Vincent’s Annie Clark. Both are supremely talented women who have managed to recapture a musical energy which has largely been spent in the last 20 years, and twist that energy into something new and unique. But where Annie Clark’s sense of theatricality is predicated on a sense of cold alienation, Garbus is all warmth. Before launching into the encore, she invites questions from the audience, and in return offers the story of the Myspace origins of the strange capitalization of the band’s name.
There bands whose talent is almost off-putting, but in the case of Tune-Yards I would not be surprised if half the audience left wanting to get their hands on a loop pedal, a dictaphone and some drum sticks. I can assure you I did.