The new tUnE-yArDs video for “Bizness” is pretty sweet – so sweet that on youtube, it currently has 100 likes and 0 dislikes. No haters.
music for the voracious and insatiable music lover
The new tUnE-yArDs video for “Bizness” is pretty sweet – so sweet that on youtube, it currently has 100 likes and 0 dislikes. No haters.
Friday started out strong. I headed over to yet another Brooklyn Vegan day show, glad for the chance to see BOBBY for a second time. (Too bad time only permitted them to perform three songs.) I stuck around Swan Dive/Barbarella the BV-claimed sites of the week for another few acts – Paleo and Holy Sons – before wandering into Side Bar where I saw The Bird and the Batteries.
I continued on my way, out to the French Legation Museum for the third day in a row. There, I saw an impressive line-up: Lower Dens, Grass Widow, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Cults, Sam Amidon, and tUnE-yArDs. (I decided against running back up the hill to attempt to see James Blake through the thick crowd. Prior to his Friday show, Blake headlined both an NPR showcase and the Pitchfork showcase.
Technical problems with Cults aside, I was fairly delighted with what I saw. Their music is upbeat and catchy. Any small flaws in their performance just made me like them more.
With three familiar acts and 3 never-before-seen it was a nice mix: familiar but also fresh. tUnE-yArDs put on an especially powerful show, successfully baiting the lingering James Blake crowd over to check her out after he had finished his set on the opposing stage.
One of the biggest surprises of the day came as I was coming back from the French Legation Museum. As I passed an auto repair shop, I heard Grimes introduce herself and begin to play. For a minute, I watched from the fence but soon decided to go in. Grimes is the solo project of Montreal-based artist Claire Boucher. She mixes together samples and loops together her voice and keyboard riffs to create danceable music – kind of like a female Baths, minus most of the awkwardness.
Next up, I saw a series of new acts: aptly named folk/rock outfit The Head and the Heart, cute husband/wife duo Reading Rainbow, and looping expert Yellow Ostrich at Antone’s, before heading out to the Ghost Room to see Social Studies and Agent Ribbons.
Reading Rainbow clip:
Though The Head and the Heart was the best attended set of the group, I think my favorite acts were Reading Rainbow and Yellow Ostrich. The Head and the Heart seem like an earnest, enthusiastic bunch, but other than a song or two, their songs don’t really strike me. They seemed well-suited for the Austin setting though.
The final few shows turned out to be a wash. I should have known when I got in the horrendous line outside the Pure Volume venue that it was a bad idea. I should have known to turn back when I heard the guy in front of me admit he was only waiting in line for the free booze and didn’t know who was playing.
But like a fool, I stuck it out. Baths would be a good way to conclude the evening, I thought. A burst of energy to help inspire/liven up the bicycle ride home. Except they were running some 45 minutes behind schedule, and after witnessing the horrors of the videographers and the dancing drunks, I decided to head out after seeing just Clock Opera and Jonquil. I regretted not taking Sam Amidon’s advice and seeing David Thomas Broughton.
Lesson learned. Free booze is nice, but not when it means large, obnoxious, and largely indifferent crowds. Just can’t handle it.
band count of the day: 19
*For more great SXSW pictures, be sure to check out Jon Bernhardt’s Flickr page.
I’m starting with this list because it is perhaps the easiest to compile. More to come.
There are 19 here. Deal with it. They’re also in descending order, for dramatic effect.
(The asterisks link to the appropriate show review.)
19. Warpaint – Music Hall of Williamsburg, December 2nd *
This was another surprise. Though I had heard the name Warpaint thrown around for a few months, I knew little about them going into the show, but they had me bewitched with their alternating vocals and mesmerizing minimalism.
18. Seabear – Mercury Lounge, March 25th *
I really can’t get enough of these quaint Icelandic bands, homespun sweaters and all. The harmonies and the impressive range of instruments in this large band leave me with an extra spring in my step. I want to get inducted into their family. You don’t think they’d notice if I joined in, do you? Maybe I could play the tambourine… or just pretend to sing.
16. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and the Cairo Gang, The Babblers – Town Hall, December 8th *
Surprisingly, this was my first time seeing B’P'B. It was a long time coming. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening, however, was The Babblers – yet another of Will Oldham’s special projects, featuring the irresistible Angel Olsen on vox.
15. tUnE-yArDs – The Bell House, February 5th *
With her wild gaze and tribal-influenced songs, Merril Garbus is a force to behold. From what I heard, she stole the show from the Dirty Projectors when she opened for them. Somehow, that doesn’t at all surprise me.
14. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Mercury Lounge, October 14th * (an interview with Owen)
I’ve seen Owen more times than nearly everyone else (3 or 4 times this year alone), and every time is a treat. This show was an extra treat because it was one of his last performances as CFTPA… ever! (I also attended his last NY show the next night, but the Brooklyn Masonic Temple was not the right environment, and too many people were there to see the other bands on the bill – ahem, Dan Deacon and Lightning Bolt). What a sweet man. I look forward to hearing his next musical project.
13. Scout Niblett and Holy Sons – The Mercury Lounge, October 6th *
After the disastrous Cat Power-esque performance in 2007, I’m certainly glad I gave you another chance, Scout (aka Emma). I love how raw her voice is and how she effortlessly shifts in tone from the sweet, innocent girl to the big bad wolf. Though I had never heard of them prior to the show, Holy Sons wowed me so much that I left with two albums.
12. Lost in the Trees – The Mercury Lounge, August 23rd *
These guys from North Carolina are every bit as mesmerizing now as when I first saw them in 2008. Their moody orchestral arrangements and haunting lyrics make me shiver every time.
11. The Blow – Glasslands Gallery, May 13th *
Oh, Khaela. Your banter about the lost album with the unnamed starlet (Lindsey Lohan) may not be true, but it makes for quite an entertaining schtick. I love her beautiful, awkward stage presence and the candidness of her songs.
10. Beirut – Music Hall of Williamsburg, July 5th *
The man has French horn tattoos. Enough said.
9. Belle & Sebastian – The Williamsburg Waterfront, September 20th *
This was perhaps my most anticipated show of the year. I’ve spent countless hours listening to Belle & Sebastian. They were just one of those formative bands for me. Too bad it took me like 6 years to actually see them. The show was good, and the band was charming. Sadly, it just never could have lived up to my expectations.
8. CocoRosie – Music Hall of Williamsburg, September 15th *
This was kind of the wild card of the year. I wasn’t sure if I’d want to storm out of the room or take the sisters home with me. The latter was more accurate. I was pretty much speechless by the end of the night.
7. Andrew Bird – The Guggenheim, August 5th *
Andrew Bird… at the Guggenheim. The set-up alone is drool-worthy. Then there was the ‘forest floor of horns’ and the multi-level rotunda, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
6. The National – Radio City Music Hall – June 16th *
I’d say I preferred their show at the Bell House or BAM earlier in the year (whoa, I saw them 4 times)… except for the fact that this was the show when Matt Berninger left the stage, climbed over the seats in my aisle, and landed in mine. The feeling of his hand on my shoulder as he steadied himself and the knowledge that I could have easily reached across the three-inch divide and caressed his cheek, are almost too much to handle.
5. DM Stith + Silje Nes + Inlets – Littlefield, June 13th *
Again, a fantastic line-up and a small, intimate show (with seats!). This was my first encounter with the Norwegian beauty Silje Nes, and I hope to see her many more times. And David Michael, might we go on a picnic sometime?
4. Laura Marling – Le Poisson Rouge, February 12th *
I love this girl… even if her songs strongly suggest that she doesn’t believe in the emotion. She is miles in front of her British contemporaries (Noah and the Whale, Fanfarlo, Mumford and Sons). Laura, I foolishly invite you to ditch Marcus and trample on my heart instead.
3. Efterklang + Sam Amidon + Daniel Bjarnason – Le Poisson Rouge, March 3rd *
I loved each of these acts individually. Together, they made for one of the most memorable shows of the year. What a talented array of musicians. Even though shows at LPR can be a bummer due to the pesky 2-item minimum at tables, I’d gladly hulk in the corner for you any day, Sam.
2. Atlas Sound – The Bell House, February 3rd *
Remember when the Bell House consistently hosted great musicians? I really hope these winter shows become an annual tradition as Bradford hinted a couple of weeks ago. I love Deerhunter, but I feel like Bradford would be dead without Atlas Sound to channel his surfeit of creative energy. Wonderful, heartfelt show – a nice contrast to the cold, dark February night.
1. Sufjan Stevens + DM Stith – Beacon Theatre, November 14th *
How could this not be the best show of the year? One minute I was dancing and laughing with glee and a few songs later, I was silently sobbing. Simply amazing.
There are ambivalent too-cool-for school crowds and then there are tUnE-yArDs fans. Instead of shying away from crowd participation, the latter group actually embraces it and exudes a child-like energy to mirror the impressive outpouring by mastermind Merrill Garbus.
I had the opportunity to see tUnE-yArDs perform again last night at Park Slope’s new music venue, The Rock Shop. (Full review to appear on Brooklyn Vegan soon). Here’s an example of how enthusiastic the small but spirited audience was:
(An excerpt from a newer song, roughly titled “Do You Want To Live?”)
The crowd was even ultra supportive in the face of technical issues. After realizing that her ukulele didn’t seem to be working properly, Merrill stopped to try to fix the problem. Here’s how it went down:
(the laughter was because Merrill inadvertently captured someone cheering in the audience in her loop, and it became incorporated into the song).
Looking forward to hearing that new upcoming material!
Xiu Xiu + tUnE-yArDs + Zola Jesus + Twin Sister – Bowery Ballroom – April 9
The Bowery Ballroom was fairly crowded surprisingly early in the evening for Friday night’s sold-out show. It looks like people heeded Brooklyn Vegan’s tip to arrive early enough to see Twin Sister and Zola Jesus, and it’s smart that they did. The four acts complimented each other well.
The New York quintet Twin Sister may have just released their debut album in 2008, but they have already garnered a fair amount of press in the blogosphere. They make dreamy, atmospheric pop music that sounds something akin to a more hypnotic and restrained version of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Lead vocalist Andrea Estella has a mesmerizing deep voice that sounds fantastic recorded, but it did not quite translate as well in a live setting – at least not last night. Though Andrea’s voice may have been a bit flat, Twin Sister’s short set established a pleasant mood for the evening.
Twin Sister have a few shows coming up in the New York area (including opening night of Rooftop Films in May). To get a feel for their sound, head over here and download some free MP3s. *For a few more days, you can also download their new EP, Color Your Life, for free via their website. *
If Andrea Estella’s voice left a bit to be desired, Zola Jesus front woman Nika Roza Danilova’s voice was on the opposite end of the spectrum. As a formally trained opera singer, Nika possesses (and I mean possesses) a rich, husky voice that boomed through the amps and powerfully resonated in the space.
From the opening seconds of the Zola Jesus set, the mood of the room quickly changed. The room was dark, and beams of light were sent pulsing over the crowd and stage. The drama was high. Nika wore a black cloak of sorts, and silver makeup was applied liberally around her eyes. After frantically pacing back and forth on the stage like a caged animal, Nika suddenly climbed up on an amp during the song “Sea Talk.” She also rushed the crowd at one point to sing from the pit. It was quite a theatrical – if not affected – performance.
By the time Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs took the stage, the room was absolutely packed. There are two kinds of people: those who have heard tUnE-yArDs and those who have yet to experience the magic. In the time leading up to the show, the former was excitedly attempting to explain the impending spectacle to the latter.
As I’ve stated before, Merrill Garbus makes colorful music that is energy-packed, raw, and almost animal-like. Like Nika, she is theatrical and dramatic, but in a completely different way. The pictures I chose of the two artists effectively conveys the difference in their styles. Zola Jesus is dark and moody in its theatricality. tUnE-yArDs is bright, colorful, and whimsical. Though she was clearly full of nervous energy, she owned the stage. The addition of Nate Brenner on bass bolstered the show, but Brenner’s presence was definitely overshadowed by Garbus’.
Unlike many other artists who rely on pre-recorded loops and samples, tUnE-yArDs carefully builds all of the layers on stage and assembles all of the parts like an experienced watchmaker. The songs may start with a single beat or backing vocal, but soon they become highly texturized and complex.
Words can only go so far when it comes to tUnE-yArDs. Check out this fantastic video from 4AD to get a small taste of her music. Seriously. Watch it. Now.
(Her official music video of the same song, “Real Live Flesh,” is also worth checking out.)
tUnE-yArDs concluded the rousing set with “Do You Want to Live?.” Merrill belted out the line of the song title with increasingly ferocity, and each time, her question was met by a resounding “YEAH!” from the enrapt and uncharacteristically responsive audience.
Interestingly, a number of people left following tUnE-yArDs’ performance and did not bother to stick around to hear even the first song from Xiu Xiu despite the fact that they were the headliners of the evening. tUnE-yArDs also stole the show from the Dirty Projectors last fall. Who will be next?
The progression of events on Friday night was fantastic. Rarely do the opening artists compliment the headliner so well. The evening was mesmerizing from the start and got progressively dramatic and zany as time passed.
Xiu Xiu was the culmination of the characteristics embodied by the opening bands. They’re weird, moody, atmospheric, dramatic, cathartic, and at times chaotic. Their airy synth-drenched sound is quiet and gentle one moment, only to be punctuated by sudden discordant bursts when either Jamie Stewart or new Xiu Xiu member Angela Seo would strike the odd tower of percussion instruments that separated them.
Xiu Xiu’s sound was noticeably darker than that of its predecessors of the evening. (After all, their latest album is titled Dear God, I Hate Myself). Jamie dripped sweat as he delivered his moody – and borderline emo – lyrics in his characteristic ghoulish voice. Dear God, I Hate Myself may have a reputation for being less odd than Xiu Xiu’s earlier music, but it’s still a freak show on stage. I left shortly after Xiu Xiu performed “Guantanamo Canto,” which features especially somber lyrics (“and your son grows to kill us all / we say thank you complicity”) and an ambulance siren. Enough drama for one night.
tUnE-yArDs – The Bell House – February 5th
Merrill Garbus, the driving force behind the ambitious project tUnE-yArDs, may not have been on the radar for long, but she is quickly making up for lost time. tUnE-yArDs has opened for a number of prominent acts, including Atlas Sound and Dirty Projectors back in November. (1) Her show at the Bell House last night was one of the first she has headlined. I’m used to playing shorter sets – 30 or 45 minutes max, so I had to write some more songs.
Garbus has a real knack for getting people’s attention. It probably didn’t hurt that she studied theater at Smith College. In a fascinating interview with the Rob Harvilla of the Village Voice, she says:
I definitely honed the ability to demand attention [...] When I first started doing open mics, which were a similar kind of thing, like, “Get people’s attention in the first five minutes – or 30 seconds – or be ignored.
From the first crazed beats of her drums, Merrill Garbus was captivating. The sheer energy encapsulated in her music is impressive, and her persona is intriguing… to say the least. She sings through two microphones and carefully loops her vocals, drums, and ukulele, gradually building up each song before your eyes. There’s no laptop. Not here, anyway. Aside from the minimal contributions of the accompanying bass player in the background, she is a one-woman show.
The music of tUnE-yArDs is a frenetic combination of DIY folk and tribal-like beats. But don’t group her with Vampire Weekend just yet. Merrill Garbus reportedly spent some time in Africa and even speaks Swahili. Her music is more than just a re-working of African beats. It expresses her feelings with her strange experience abroad. In the same Voice interview, she references her time in Africa and the song “Hatari”:
I grew an obsession with African music, before I was in Africa and afterward. It’s more my feeling of being an American and experiencing Africa as an American [...] I really thought that I was going to be dancing half-naked to Paul Simon’s ‘I Know What I Know’ on the savannah. So the song is grappling with what actually happened.
As she sang – or more accurately at times, bellowed - into her two mics, Garbus looked out into the crowd with the intensity of an animal in the Sahara. Her gaze was simultaneously poised, confused, frightened, observant, and fierce. Her incongruous mix of vulnerability and confidence was a winning combination. People in the audience began to dance and chant along to the songs.
Near the end of her rousing set, Garbus confessed: I’m super embarrassed. I’ve never played before so many people who know they’re here to see me. I’m blushing under my zebra stripes. Sure, her shtick (and her voice) may not be for everyone, but there’s no denying that her performance was stunning.
(1) Regarding the MHOW show, Village Voice reported that she “rendered the Dirty Projects a mere afterthought.” Yikes.
I finally got around to listening to BiRd-BrAiNs, the debut album by one-woman-band tUnE-yArDs that came out in November. Ok I guess I should qualify this… I’ve actually only listened to the first three songs so far because I’ve become so enchanted by the second song on the album, “Sunlight.”
Take a listen:
I especially love the beat in this song.
Merrill Garbus, the mastermind behind tUnE-yArDs, definitely takes a DIY approach to her music. Her album was recorded on a digital voice recorder and assembled using shareware mixing software. It is hectic, weird, challenging, and certainly not for everyone, but I’ve got to say… I think she’ll put on quite an interesting show at The Bell House in Brooklyn in February.