Merrill Garbus’ tUnE-yArDs‘ reputation as a live act that will have you both dancing and swooning at once precedes them. Garbus, perhaps, knows this and she eases us into her set of layered sounds and interrupted rhythms with a stripped down acappella introduction to live staple ‘Party Can (Do You Wanna Live)’. the girls are join in with the happy syncopated dancing as the song develops from its base layers to a cartoon jungle of groove.
tUnE-yArDs are low on patter tonight: maybe it’s nerves. Garbus speculates that Shepherd’s Bush Empire may be the largest venue that they have headlined on this tour, and tonight it’s crammed with fans and expectations. Everyone is here for the music, and tUnE-yArDs begin by barrelling through their mille-feuille set of treats. Garbus’ voice, famously powerful, spins like a coin catching sunlight through ‘Es-So’. She creates sound-scapes that are more like towers of coloured ABC blocks than cultivated formal songs: ‘Youth’ seems to have been collected, magpie-like, from a junkyard of shiny ideas.
The addition of saxophone to the live show adds a texture of chocolate beginning to melt on your tongue to the band’s palate. New song, ‘Quit Your Death’, is received by grateful ears. The song plays with percussion, mixing hi-hats, drumbeats and strikes of a keyboard. Favourites ‘Bizness’ and ‘My Country’ are slung out before a tiny interlude after which Garbus takes the stage again to play encore song, ‘Doorsteps’.
Garbus’ fascination with re-making and re-imagining music into bright new ribbons of woven sound brings her to the fore of salvage-pop’s buccaneering spirit. There is so much to be sad about in the modern age; Garbus’ music invites us to remember to see shades of innocence, discovery and unexpected glimpses of joy.
tUnE-yArDs continue their current tour across Europe in February and March. What do you think to Garbus’ pic n’ mix pop mezze? The girls are want to know.