tUnE-yArDs make aural assault enjoyable at the Entry

Categories: Concert Review
Photos by Erik Hess
Though clanging pop duo Xiu Xiu were the headliners in the Entry on Friday night, it was clear that a good portion of the audience turned out to see tUnE-yArDs, an avant garde tribal folk group who has been a favorite of this blogger since seeing them open for Dirty Projectors at the Cedar last fall. Everything that I remembered about tUnE-yArDs' live show was present Friday night -- the way lead singer Merrill Garbus loops her Amazonian vocals, syncopated snare and tom drums, and sunny ukulele parts into a dizzying yet stunning tapestry; the way her music simultaneously challenges and endears the listener, like a bitter pill that is nonetheless intoxicating -- and it was fascinating watching Garbus and bass player Nate Brenner play off one another in such a small, intimate setting.

One of the overwhelming feelings that comes from watching tUnE-yArDs' live set is a sense of disbelief. Garbus's coordination alone is worthy of heaps of praise; in the first minute of her performance, she effortlessly recorded snippets of drums beats, tossed in a bit of yodeling, and picked up her ukulele to start fingerpicking a melody, all while barely lifting an eyebrow. And yet she is supremely aware of the complexity of her music. While recording the intro to one of her songs, a drum part didn't line up quite right, so she stopped and looked out at the audience, blushing and admitting that "It doesn't always work out!"

Photos by Erik Hess
But when tUnE-yArDs' forces are aligned, the result is profound. Songs are written as if to intentionally agitate the listener, veering in and out of more traditional pop melodies with spikes of dissonance. Garbus's voice is phenomenal, bandying between a sweet, soft coo and a banshee roar with amazing control, and she seems especially amused at hitting "wrong" notes, drawing out the more off-kilter passages with a smirk. And just when the aural assault nears tedium she reigns it back in, falling into a catchy, African dance beat or strumming through a few major chord changes on her ukulele to get the audience back in the groove.

Earlier in the day, we had the opportunity to sit in on a session that tUnE-yArDs recorded for Radio K at Ben Durrant's Crazy Beast studio in Northeast, and during the interview Garbus discussed her desire to challenge her listeners, even down to the way her band's name is spelled. "I've always wanted to make music that irritates people, to some extent," she laughed. "Forcing people to press down their shift key a few extra times is just another way of accomplishing that."

No problem, tUnE-yArDs. We're happy to add a few keystrokes just for you.

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