Mr. Smalls Theater
Saturday, October 18
Photos and review by Randy Jarosz
Chatters of admiration could be heard from teenage girls in the front row, before Merrill Garbus, took the stage. Another was even holding back tears. Garbus is the brains behind the New England based tUnE-yArDs. The sold out Mr. Smalls Theater was also packed with male fans too. Her music transcends genres and can be described as experimental with world influences. Women like her for her independence and female empowerment. Men like her because of her witty lyrics and catchy beats. tUnE-yArDs breakthrough success came after the release of 2011’s w h o k i l l, album. Now Garbus and long time bandmate and bassist Nate Brenner along with a touring band are on the road in support of new release, Nikki Nack.
Garbus is a sight to see in action. One would think that her quirky noises and sounds would be tough to replicate in front of a few thousand screaming fans, but Merrill does it flawlessly. She skillfully uses drum loops to create a lot of her sounds. She’ll start by producing the drum beat or vocals while recording it and then plays it back throughout the song while layering lyrics and ukelele. In an interview with Pitchfork in 2011, Garbus equated her talent to manage all of these things through, “…a shit ton of rehearsal.”
tUnE-yArDs immediately grabbed the crowds attention prompting a clap along for the beginning of Sink-O. Garbus then rattled off “Real Thing,” “Wait for a Minute,” and “Time of Dark,” all from Nikki Nack. The bands sound has changed a bit from their lo-fi days with BiRd-BrAiNs, to their new pop oriented songs.
“You still out there,” asked Garbus before jumping into “Hey Life,”and transitioning into “Gangsta,” while the crowd erupted, singing along with her fire siren like intro and later finishing versus to the song while she pranced around the stage. Garbus jammed hard on her ukelele for “Es-So,” and then slowed things down a bit with 2011 hit “Powa,” and continued on with “Bizness,” another highlight from the night.
Garbus thanked Pittsburgh and Mr. Smalls for being wonderful, thanked her tour bus driver for driving them around the country and joked, “who knew we could have a tour bus like a real rock band.” They then dove into “Water Fountain,” the first single from Nikki Nack. Garbus pulled out the tambourine for “Doorstep,” while decorative eyes lit up on stage, then closing their dynamic set with “Left Behind.”
Crooner, James Tillman opened the evening with just a guitar and incense burning. He set the tone early and had the packed venue at his fingertips. The soul singer released his debut EP, Shangri La in April. Tillman finished his set by taking a cell phone picture of the crowd.