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tUnE-yArDs @ The Haunt, Brighton 21.06.11

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tune-yards live in Brighton 2

Coincidentally, and unfortunately for the band in question, tUnE-yArDs’ support, Thousands, were a perfect example of the flipside of this phenomenon. Two Americans with acoustic guitars, battling against the curiously cone-shaped venue which funnelled and amplified the sound of hipster chatter right onto the stage and into their faces, so that their delicate pickings were competing with several hundred ha-ha-ing haircuts. So they sounded like nothing. Like two blokes strumming. As dull as mud. Whereas, so I later discovered, on record they are all about the minutiae. Their songs breathe when studio-born, much more rarified beasts than the busked nonentities my ears heard that night. Their recording process is meticulous: they record outside, in specific rural locations, every gentle burr of the strings, every catch of the breath part of the poetry. It’s beautiful, through lush stereo speakers and in still air. It’s utter shite on a stupidly-placed stage in front of a distracted, bored, partisan crowd on a hot night in Brighton.

It doesn’t bode well for tUnE-yArDs. And this is the gig where I get to test my theory that the alchemy happens live. Huh.

I needn’t have worried. It’s perfect. The sound is clear and gorgeous, the performance miraculous. Blah blah blah. The thing is, with live music there’s nothing that can be done to convey the experience truly. Words fail me. Us. They leave gaps and create elisions, they trick and mislead. Shit. It’s not like writing about a song on the internet and embedding an MP3 so the reader can check that your whooping about its awesomeness isn’t just some hype-induced craziness. This is a doubly-mediated experience. And it’s not as if videos can really do it either, despite where we came in. Watching a video of a performance on a small screen is a qualitatively different experience to being in the venue, with all the roar and the stink and the friction.

I’ll try. Because it really does make a difference to what I heard that I was perched on the edge of the stage, my back against the speaker. That I could see the sweat dripping down the saxophonists’ faces, smearing the black streak painted across their cheeks. That I could feel the thump of the bass in my belly. That my legs got pins and needles but that I didn’t care; I didn’t want it to end. That the sensation of being a mere metre away from where two saxes were playing notes a microtone apart could be felt in my knees. Does it help that I found out that that sound is the ringing clink of a beer bottle being struck by a drumstick or that one is the particular clatter that a baking tray makes when thwacked by a joyous brass player? Does it increase my appreciation of the songs to twig that the reason Garbus doesn’t wear shoes on stage is because she uses a stripy-socked foot to twiddle a delay pedal and adjust the length of the loop (whilst simultaneously singing and playing the drums and the ukele)?

 Yes. It does.

(continues overleaf)

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7 Responses to tUnE-yArDs @ The Haunt, Brighton 21.06.11

  1. Brigette Adair July 19, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Oh, what a fantastic review Lucy Cage! I finally feel at peace on the subject-the difference between the alchemy of the live performance and something missing in the recordings. That version of Real Live Flesh is truly spectacular (the way she hits those drums made my heart flutter!). I probably won’t listen to w h o k i l l, but if I have a chance to see her live, I will! * bows to Lucy

  2. Nate M July 19, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    yesyesyes!!! Lucy perfectly captures what thrills me about Merrill/tUnE-yArDs. Live vs. record are two different beasts. Brigette, I’m sorry you missed the duo tUne show @ Sec. Squirrel supporting bird-brain album (’08?), not to mention Merrill’s fat baby puppet show in Brattleboro, VT (’04?), such experiences might’ve helped lift whatever soured your review with affected weirdness accusations and projected needy acceptance, or perhaps just a general distrust of the golden gleam off a suspiciously shiny ‘fork. I can understand that very founded suspicion, but don’t let it blur the bottom line: Merrill is stepping on stage to make intoxicating unlikely magic

  3. Princess Stomper July 19, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    You make me want to be a better writer. 🙂

  4. sid July 20, 2011 at 2:28 am

    ahhh … i thought you were holding out on us ed, thanks for the much needed lucy cage fix!

  5. THE RECOMMENDER BLOG July 20, 2011 at 7:43 am

    A lovely piece. I live in Brighton, but happened to be away from town for this show. I was pretty gutted that I missed it, but having read your wonderful review I now realise I should in fact be utterly decimated that I missed it.
    Thanks
    Mike

  6. Tom R July 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    I don’t know if I buy this dichotomy between t-y live vs on record. I still listen to “Fiya” from her first record a lot and it never fails to move me. “Sunrise” and “Hatari” too. I’ve been told to expect a fidelity upgrade with the new one, and I can’t imagine that it would blunt the emotional impact that Merrill brought to the first one. Since when has it been news that a band was better live than on record?

    Still, I’m open to the fact that I might be eating these words should I get the chance to see them.

  7. hannah golightly July 20, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    The Haunt venue was one of my faves that I visited at the Brighton Great Escape Festival this year. The sound there was sketchy though and some bands lost the power of their set due to it.

    I love this piece. Really cool.

    I’m still not sure about Tuneyards (and can’t quite bring myself to type it in the upper and lower case that it’s naffly supposed to be done in.) Having said that, this piece made me take another listen. The video captures something special… I love the sexy drumming and it really works well for her performance- better than any singer/synth-playing front person and possibly even cooler than singers with guitars, which is saying something.

    I’m starting to wonder if she isn’t in fact the world’s new Bjork.

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