Friday, November 11, 2011

Show review: tUnE-yArDs, Pat Jordache at Lincoln Hall, 11/10

By Andrew Hertzberg

tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus
TUnE-yArDs and Pat Jordache hit up Lincoln Hall for the second of two sold out shows Thursday night. I knew tUnE-yArDs was the real deal after seeing the commanding power of the Merrill Garbus led group at the Pitchfork Music Festival over the summer, but I had no idea how great last night was truly going to be. As is often the case with sold out shows, most of the crowd was there for the headliner. Considering Pat Jordache’s connection with Merrill Garbus, I thought more people would have been interested in seeing what he can do on his own. Alas that wasn’t the case, although I can’t say for sure that they missed anything entirely special. Like Garbus in tUnE-yArDs, Jordache makes very off-kilter music, centered around highly unconventional vocals and compositions, drawing from a myriad of influences. Backed by two drummers and a guitarist, Jordache primarily handles the bass, often opting for chords as opposed to a rhythmic backline. This was definitely their biggest advantage live.

Jordache’s debut from this year, Future Songs, can get a bit monotonous in its effect-heavy production, but the two drums and bass chords become so much more alive and pounding on stage, particularly in the patient revenge fantasy "Get It (I Know You’re Going To)." The weird thing about Jordache is despite the fact that he can’t sing, he can actually craft great melodies, as in standout track "Phantom Limb." I couldn’t help be reminded by his baritone of Bowie’s theatrical "The Bewlay Brothers" as it was often countered with a higher harmony, creating an eerie sound. Although despite the acid-washed jeans Jordache was sporting, he wasn’t entirely revivalist. Abstract drumming, competitive guitar and keyboard and a vague sense of the tropical combined with minimal pop breakdowns reminded me of newer Peter, Bjorn and John, Icy Demons and even TV on the Radio. The set closed with the upbeat "Salt on the Fields," changing time signatures half-way through, ending things on an upbeat, albeit still dreary note.

Pat Jordache
Whereas Pat Jordache played the role of tortured artist, Garbus was all confidence. Much of her set was centered on vocal loops, which are always a tricky thing. Case in point, when feedback immediately entered into the loop. But without a stutter, Garbus calmly started again with her African tribal vocals, with few of such hiccups the rest of the night. She then picked up the drumsticks and played a simple beat on a tom and snare. She dropped the vocal loop and asked “DO YOU WANT TO LIVE?” with a resounding response from the audience. Enter Nate Brenner on bass and backing percussion to wrap up "Party Can." Two saxophonists made their way on stage, playing a jazzy, no-wavey noise while Garbus began the distinctive drumbeat to "Gangsta." On record, the track sounds like it aids from many vocal affects, but she recreated them perfectly live. Likewise, the stop-start timing of the bridge was nailed perfectly between all four musicians.

Hands down, Garbus has one of the best and unique voices in all of music today. It’s abrasive as it is feminine, and it’s that trait which is so compelling. When she says “This is where we jump” at the end of "You Yes You," the crowd jumps. When she counts down for the audience to make the weirdest noise they can, the crowd makes weird noises. And that’s not to say musicianship isn’t there. "Es-so," the distorted ukulele led jam, was funky enough on its own to get the crowd moving, featuring a delicate if not cryptic-sounding Garbus. Bathed in blue light, she perfectly harmonized with the saxes on "Doorstep," after providing an off-beat drum loop, hitting her micstand, while Brenner backed her up on glass bottles. On the subject of looping: it’s a great way to never ensure a lull in the show. She played a drumbeat and allowed it to loop while she tuned her ukulele. “Good things come to those who wait,” she assured us before beginning "Powa." If there is one track that showcases the power of her vocals, it has to be this one. With a vocal solo at the end, she didn't even need a microphone as she hit the highest parts of her falsetto. She nailed it just like at Pitchfork, implying she can replicate it night after night after night.

Her tribal facepaint spotlighted, Merrill raised a hand in the air to signal the start of "Bizness," a perpetual afro-pop build up, featuring extended solos from both saxophones. The set so far had mostly centered around this year’s brilliant w h o k i l l, but she did play "Fiya" off of 2009’s BiRd-BrAiNs, much less complex than her newer songs, as it was recorded on a handheld tape recorder and mixed on the free editing program Audacity. And in case you missed it, she just headlined two sold out shows at Lincoln Hall. Now that’s a DIY work ethic. And she’s not stopping yet. She played a new song for us, the vocals falling apart at the end into a harmony with the saxophones. Before her last song "My Country," she mentioned that she would be giving out hugs after the show for a donation to help countries in East Africa (she is fluent in Swahili and studied in Kenya). [final number from both shows: $1600]

Of course, things couldn’t end there. The band came back out to encore with "Real Live Flesh" from the BiRd-DrOpPiNgS EP. The R&Besque tune is layered, ominous and confusing and leaves you wondering what happens next all throughout, impressively while simultaneously putting the crowd in a slow trance. Appropriately, the night capped off the w h o k i l l closer "Killa," with Garbus proclaiming she’s “A new kind of woman / A don’t take shit from kind of woman.” A fitting way to end the night, and if these thousand words haven’t got the point across yet, Merrill Garbus is one of the most fascinating and creative artists performing today. If you couldn’t make either one of these shows, it’s not too late to pick up w h o k i l l. Expect to see it on every year-end list.

(Read a review of the first night over at Gaper's Block.)


Check out more show reviews:
Wooden Shjips at the Empty Bottle
Electric 6 at Double Door
Omar Souleyman at the Empty Bottle 
Cymbals Eat Guitars at Lincoln Hall

1 comment:

  1. I really can't wait to catch tUnE-yArDs heard so much about them live, Merril's voice is meant to be amazing and watching her using the loop pedal and all that is brilliant, hope there over here soon!