Of all three performers on for the KUTX birthday bash, I was most excited to see tUnE-yArDs. I’d heard some really good things about them live, plus, I’d been listening to their albums – Whokill (2011) and their most recent release Nikki Nack (2014) – a lot over the past couple of months.
tUnE-yArDs is the project of Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner, but Garbus is the creative force behind the band and pretty much the public face. Their music is experimental pop, and it’s so, so, cool. Seriously, you guys. For real. Super cool. And it’s so much cooler seeing them perform in person than listening to the albums, and their albums are already really cool. They’re just…cool, dude. It’s strange, because many of their songs are very much hit and miss with me – I find some of them kind of un-listenable, which is a weird thing to say about a band I really, really like. But some songs hit, and they hit HARD and you start listening and you’re like, “What is this?” and you can’t turn it off and before you know it you’ve listened to that song 32 times in a row. Musicians can play it safe and write pleasant, safe-sounding songs and probably do perfectly well and 70% of the music audience will be like, “meh, they’re alright” or you can be awesome and write like the tUnE-yArDs and sometimes go incredibly off track and other times hit creative pop gold which builds you a rabid following.
Here was the set up: Garbus had a couple of snare drums, a few other percussion instruments (woodblocks, etc), a looping pedal and a keyboard that was set to the “space laser” sound (I think that’s a setting). Plus a ukulele. She plays a mean ukulele. There was another percussionist onstage with about 10 different drums and percussion instruments, various tones and sizes and setups. Brenner plays the bass, which was just set firmly on “extreme distort” as far as I could tell. He maybe used a keyboard once or twice. Plus two backup singers, and at first you’re probably going to think, “That’s a lot of backup singers for a three-man band BUT WAIT till I tell you about the backup singers.
With that setup they were pretty much able to recreate the songs on their albums sound for sound. When you first listen to the album it has a more produced feel – drum machines and vocal samples and all that jazz, but it’s not. Listening live is like listening to this:
More precision than a drum machine.
The performance overall was very precise and skillful, almost presented like performance art. Really solid. Some of the music was just weird but weird with a really definite purpose. They played a set that mixed new stuff in with a few songs from their first album, like the really excellent Gangsta:
Actually, weird isn’t quite the right word for them, because really they encompass more. It was interesting and innovation and so refreshing to see experimental stuff that works.
And oh yeah, those backup singers: when I first heard the intro to this song I didn’t even consider those could be real people actually singing. Like, who does that nowadays? I figured cool samples or whatever. But no. tUnE-yArDs had a couple of backup singers that just SANG THAT. How cool? Pretty cool.
Hear/Buy tUnE-yArDs here.
Check out upcoming tour dates here.