In bringing their brazen melodies and shattering rhythms to the Electric Brixton, Merrill Garbus’ tUnE-yArDs present an experience far fuller than their DIY origins would suggest. As 2011’s Powa spun up into the ceiling, the days of recycled cassette tapes and handheld voice recorders seem fully transcended by a complete and sure live act.
Opening for tUnE-yArDs, and setting the tone for collected experimentation (albeit on more sombre terms), were Adult Jazz. ShufSounds spoke to the Leeds band at the start of this year, and it seems that none of their personality or curiosity has been weathered throughout the year. Stretching various cuts from their debut album across their set, the four-piece managed to demand attention in what could easily have become a sidelined slot before the baying cult of Garbus. There are certainly songs in their collection that work better than others in a live environment. The gradual swell of Hum to the pomp of a golden trombone is jubilant, and the spell-binding clatter of Idiot Mantra even hints at how much further Adult Jazz could grow beyond their current sound.
Of course the night truly belonged to tUnE-yArDs and their reception on stage was testament to this. The stronghold of fans awaiting them, for their second of two shows in Brixton, seemed ready for celebration and on arrival they were met with a live band more than prepared to meet this readiness. Similarly to Adult Jazz there were cuts that soared with more strength than others. Already one of tUnE-yArDs’ most well known offerings, Gangsta was dropped surprisingly early in proceedings but nevertheless set the room alight. In similar fashion, the lead single from this year’s Nikki Nack, Water Fountain, precisely produced the particular mode of meticulous chaos that has guaranteed tUnE-yArDs so much success.
This is not to say that any part of the show fell flat, but it was during these high moments that tUnE-yArDs made most sense on stage. Constructing songs from such disparate influences allows Garbus to mislead and confuse her captive followers, before finally offering them moments of intimate and melodic clarity. Perhaps this is why the jaunty ukelele of Powa struck such a chord. Amongst a frenetic and brilliantly cluttered set it provided a moment of respite to fully appreciate a solo DIY project that has now matured into a completely different animal.
Words: Angus Harrison