Dazzling magic came to Shoreditch on a Monday as Cargo played host to tUnE-yArDs, aka Merrill Garbus, a lady who popped up from nowhere last year and who has swiftly won hearts and minds.
She followed up her word-of-mouth ‘OMG did you see it’ set at the Breeders-curated ATP festival by supporting and upstaging Dirty Projectors before releasing her debut album BiRd-BrAiNs through 4AD. Those who’d seen her before knew that tonight might be special. But she still managed to destroy all her previous benchmarks.
After some lively support from Think About Life and Trash Kit, Garbus takes to the stage with a bassist in tow. He provides depth to the songs, but all eyes are on her as she nests herself between a couple of drums, ukulele in hand and loop pedals at her feet.
From those few instruments and an incredible voice demonstrating increased confidence since her earlier gigs, she records herself, loops her recordings and builds up the layers into complete songs. Everything sounds fresh and is executed with precision, because an expert in looping has to be precise. And she is. Like Little Boots with her Tenori-On but a million times more inventive, there are gasps of wonder and astonishment throughout what follows.
Even a technological malfunction is dealt with swiftly and with good humour as she begins Powa for a second time, reprogramming everything from scratch to the yelping audience’s delight as she finds her sound again.
Some will harbour an immediate cynicism of anyone who is so wilfully reckless with her upper and lower cases, uses facepaint, and relies heavily on vocal loops. Many of us will have seen too many self-appointed merchants of ‘crazy’ to need to see another one. But it turns out that all of those misfires were simply leading to tUnE-yArDs. She’s everything they wanted to be. As her more out-there tracks such as current single Real Live Flesh and Party Can edge towards the awkward nooks of experimentalism, her fully formed melodies bring them back to something altogether more likeable.
Crucially underlying all of the wizardry and brilliance are truly excellent songs. Real Live Flesh is magical, overflowing with ideas, energy and, above all, soul. And Fiya stands out tonight, irresistible with delicate ukulele strumming that builds towards a climax of sensational African influenced vocal work.
During Hatari, a girl screams “I love you tUnE-yArDs”. Then another girl. And then a boy. Garbus must be getting used to this. Two people who’ve just met tonight kiss. The whole room is full of a warmth, adoration and the sort of unabashed loveliness that’s experienced all too rarely. As she arrives at her encore, the crowd are asked whether they want Sunlight or new track, You Yes You. Thankfully the result is a 50/50 split, so they’re rewarded with both. Everyone just wanted more. They would have happily listened to her all night.
tUnE-yArDs offers something so different to anything else around at the moment, something magical and uplifting. Her album is great, but her live show simply has to be experienced to see why the title ‘genius’ really does apply. Not only that, but she’s surely the most likeable pop star on the planet. Best gig of the year achieved by mid-February? It’s just possible.
BUY tUnE-yArDs – BiRd BrAiNs