If espousing a particular fondness for Tayto Cheese & Onion crisps wasn’t enough to endear Merrill Garbus to the Whelan’s faithful, her brand of lo-fi homemade pop certainly was. Garbus, accompanied by bassist Nate Brenner, (but mostly Garbus) are tUnE-yArDs, a bit left of centre, a bit rough around the edges – but bloody marvellous. It’s hard not to be immediately intoxicated by Garbus’ unlikely fusion of loop driven, bass oriented beats. Add to that her ukulele strumming and profoundly expressive vocal range, all steeped in a sort of African tribal rhythm, and you get the sense that what you have staring back at you from the stage is something quite unique indeed.
Playing a set predominantly comprising of songs from tUnE-yArDs only full length release to date, BiRd-BrAiNs, Garbus and Brenner, using only a bass guitar, ukulele, two drums and a slew of effects pedals, created a patchwork of expertly stripped-down songs. Garbus, outside of her percussive and ukulele duties, also employed the use of delay pedals on almost every song. Seeing her lay down different layers of beats, often mingled with her unintelligible vocals before the bass thumped in, allowed the audience the unique perspective of seeing the songs exist in different guises as she creates them, slowly peeling back the layers and revealing the structure.
Garbus has compelling presence on stage, too. Arriving barefoot and adorned with the sort of flower-power makeup you might expect to see on old Woodstock documentaries and seeing her strain to summon these curious vocals from some part of her being inaccessible to you or I was, in itself, an interesting experience.
Particular highlights from the show included the intricately looped -Real Live Flesh’ and -Hatari’, the absurdly catchy -News’ but notable absentees were the excellent -Sunlight’ and -For You’ – but choosing to dwell on what we didn’t see when what we did see was so entertaining is missing the point.
tUnE-yArDs were playing their second Dublin show having previously been in town playing a supporting role to Dirty Projectors, but based on the evidence in Whelan’s it won’t be long before we see them again. Don’t bet against seeing them make an appearance on the summer festival scene, a situation you get the feeling that the band and fans alike would have no problem with. In fact, when acknowledging her surprise that the Whelan’s crowd knew the lyrics to most of the songs, Garbus mused that perhaps she should move to Ireland and be famous. We’d take her.
Photos by Damien McGlynn.