The Uniquely Talented Merrill Garbus

June 4th, 2012

tUnE-yArDs – Terminal 5 – June 1, 2012

In an age with limitless music choices and musicians clamoring to find a way to stand out from the crowd, making music that sounds nothing like anything that’s ever been done before is nearly impossible. But Merrill Garbus, better known as tUnE-yArDs, is one of the few artists to pull it off, winning near universal acclaim. With a snare drum, ukulele, loop pedal, bass player and two saxophonists, tUnE-yArDs churns out a unique sound that defies easy categorization. Even though Garbus is at the forefront of the avant-garde, her music is incredibly accessible, enough so to pack Terminal 5 full of dancing bodies.

The percussive “Gangsta,” with Garbus’s siren-like looping wails filling the venue with frantic energy, opened the show. She admitted that performing here sometimes made her nervous, but it wasn’t visible in her demeanor. Wearing a black dress with multicolored bands jutting out from her shoulders, Garbus had the appearance of a ukulele-wielding gladiator of Afro rhythms. She gracefully brushed off a technical glitch during “Real Life Flesh,” and the small hiccup reminded the audience that the layered loops of rhythms and harmonies are the result of an organic process that’s tough to pull off live.

Watching Garbus piece together her songs from nothing is the most impressive aspect of her performance. The high-energy crowd went crazy at the first recognizable sax lines of “Bizness,” the breakout hit from w h o k i l l. The band returned to play two songs for the encore: “Sunlight,” which Garbus reminded the audience wasn’t new but was actually the first single off the debut tUnE-yArDs album, and “Party Can (Do You Wanna Live).” The latter’s repeated call-and-response chorus of “Do you wanna live?” and “Yeah!” made for an appropriate ending to the life-affirming concert. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Greg Notch |