tUnE-yArDs brought their infectious grooves back to the Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac, Michigan. It was a homecoming of sorts, said leading lady, Merrill Garbus. Not only have they played the Crofoot multiple times before, but tUnE-yArDs played its first show just down the street. The group, consisting of Garbus and bassist Nate Brenner, now calls Oakland, California, home.
And tUnE-yArDs knows how to throw a fun musical party. They got the Crofoot crowd bouncing and bobbing with their unique blend of catchy tunes, percussive dance beats, and infectious energy.
To drive the beat, Garbus began most songs by building layered rhythm loops with a floor tom, snare, tambourine, and anything else within reach of her drumsticks. She was joined by Dani Markham, who stood behind a kit with a variety of drums, cymbals, and other percussive devices. Together they made the studio grooves come alive.
Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDstUnE-yArDs at the Crofoot Ballroom, Pontiac, Michigan. October 21, 2014 Dani Markham with tUnE-yArDs at the Crofoot Ballroom, October 2014tUnE-yArDs at the Crofoot Ballroom, Pontiac, Michigan. October 21, 2014
Vocal harmonies are a big part of the tUnE-yArDs sound and Garbus made vocal loops on several songs to accompany herself. She is also backed by Abigail Nessen-Bengson and Jo Lampert on the Nikki Nack tour. In addition to providing backing vocals, they added to the show's energy with fun choreography and dramatic acting, but more on that later.
Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDstUnE-yArDs at the Crofoot Ballroom, Pontiac, Michigan. October 21, 2014 Jo Lampert with tUnE-yArDs at the Crofoot Ballroom, October 2014tUnE-yArDs at the Crofoot Ballroom, Pontiac, Michigan. October 21, 2014 Abigail Nessen-Bengson with tUnE-yArDs at the Crofoot Ballroom, October 2014tUnE-yArDs at the Crofoot Ballroom, Pontiac, Michigan. October 21, 2014
Bassist Nate Brenner stayed in the shadows of stage right, but his bass lines are an important part of the tUnE-yArDs grooves. He is credited as co-writer on all Nikki Nack songs.
The show kicked off with "Doorstep" from tUnE-yArDs second album, W H O K I L L and featured a full stage including opening act, James Tillman. After a string of Nikki Nack songs, including "Left Behind," "Sink-o," "Real Thing," and "Time of Dark," the supporting band members left Garbus and Brenner onstage for two more W H O K I L L songs, "Gangsta" and "Powa." These two songs really had the Crofoot crowd bouncing along and dancing in the wings.
One of the show highlights for me came from a very unexpected source. After "Es-so" and "Wait for a Minute." Nessen-Bengson and Lampert stepped forward and joined Garbus in the spotlight up front. Garbus announced an interlude, which consisted of a hilariously dramatic reading of "Why Do We Dine on the Tots?" Admittedly, this is the one track on Nikki Nack that I skip, but this moment of cheesy performance theater has changed my tune. I will dine on the tots, thank you very much.
After the interlude, they launched into Nikki Nack's catchy "Water Fountain," which is getting lots of radio play, and then "Bizness."
I haven't even mentioned Garbus' wonderfully versatile voice, but it certainly matched the studio recordings. Her high note in "Powa" drew whoops and cheers from the crowd, just one highlight of many.
I was equally impressed by Garbus on ukulele, including her ability to tune the instrument mid-song. Given her physical playing style it needed frequent tunings apparently.
The encore included the oldie "Real Live Flesh" from the first tUnE-yArDs album, Bird Brains, released in 2009.
tUnE-yArDs finishes their current portion of their US tour at the end of October 2014, begins playing Europe in November, then returns to the States for a several dates in December.
Hopefully they'll come back to Michigan again soon.
Click photo below for the full gallery of tUnE-yArDs show photos.