tUnE-yArDs @ The Haunt, Brighton 21.06.11

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tune-yards live in Brighton 1

She is an accomplished, electric, performer. She stands out front like a tribal queen, an arc of drums and pedals arrayed before her, and builds her songs afresh each time. She writes and constructs her music in front of us, starting with a rhythm clicked out on the rim of her drum which is looped and repeated and manipulated and added to, vocalisations used as percussive rather than melodic elements, parps of brass and skipping lines of guitar looped and woven into the mesh in their turn, until there is an utterly thrilling web of noise pulsating on the stage. It’s a pretty remarkable thing to witness. It gets the place bouncing; at one point Merrill and her band and the whole crowd hop up and down in sheer synchronised delight like Masai warriors. She makes the crowd sing out a simple repeated phrase; she builds us into it all as if we were another instrument. She works the communal thrum until every being in the place is buzzed-up with shared joy. No time for irritation, no space for getting tired of the yodelly schtick: it’s all about the heartbeat.

Cleverness is definitely a turn-on. Lack of botheredness about seeming cool is too. Being a savvy female musician, who clearly knows exactly what she is doing, who is deeply, geekily, competent and in control of the sound she is making, a conductor of and for magic: that totally rocks. Merrill Garbus shares this, and a kind of particular weird ordinariness, with Kristin Hersh (and, incidentally, with the pedal-head women in Braids, who look like wide-eyed junior English teachers and play like goddesses); unglitzy to the bone but deeply extraordinary – because this isn’t how pop stars are meant to be. They shouldn’t look or act or sing like this. They shouldn’t be this untrammelled, this peculiar! Where’s the rock? Where’s the roll?  – and thus are quite the most intense performers imaginable.

So tUnE-yArDs do the bizness. I win. Maybe one day they will come close to the impossible goal of pinning down a moment in recorded form but for now THESE are the ur-version of the songs. THESE are their platonic ideal. No need for foreknowledge when the music comes to life in your gut, no need for ghosts when things are this alive. This is moment-by-moment ineffable specificity: there’ll never be this again. This is unique. This is now. This is here. This is mine.

And next time I listen to w h o k i l l, I’ll also be hearing the whoops of that night, the memory of her socks and her audience and her grin boosting the digital signal and turning up the colours to full saturation.

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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.

  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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