Wednesday 14 May 2014

tUnE-yArDs and Sylvan Esso at Village Underground - 12 May 2014


Wayhoo! WAYHOO!! Yip! Yip! Yip!

Merrill Garbus aka Tune-Yards aka tUnE-yArDs has taken the stage. The crowd is ecstatic to the point of delirium. This will lead to problems later on…

About an hour earlier we have been royally entertained by Amelia Randall Meath and Nicholas Sandborn, a duo who operate under the title of Sylvan Esso.

Amelia is a compact figure in black. She tenses her body as though preparing to lift a heavy weight. She is in fact gathering her energies to let rip with a powerful voice.

Beside her, Nicholas is the complete physical opposite. Tall and skinny, he's all hands and elbows a he fiddles with the knobs on an electronic console. He unleashes a succession of thunderous beats, which heave underneath Amelia's vocal.

There's a general Portishead style vibe here, and the rhythms are hard to resist. The crowd nods its collective head along with the bouncing duo and all is well.

When Tune-Yards appear there is an up swell of emotion that starts off hysterical and kind of builds from there. Merrill Garbus is not so much welcomed as worshipped.

Dressed in a green costume and smeared with green and white peace paint, Garbus looks like the commanding officer of an Eighties interstellar space cruiser. And command she does.

There are plenty of songs from new album 'Nikki Nack'. Garbus has a wonderfully expressive face, all rolling eyes and strained gurning as she ranges from sweetly cooing nursery rhyme to Appalachian hog calling - usually within the same song. Time signatures are complex and variable, with some tunes incorporating long silences or ending so abruptly that it is hard to tell if they have finished or not.

It's a breathtaking performance.

Unfortunately, Tune-Yards are not the only sound. Large sections of the crowd, gripped in the throes of devotion, cannot resist the impulse to attempt to sing along with everything.  It is a marvel that Merrill Garbus can produce the noise that she does and a few dozen enthusiastic but (let's face it) drunk and awful amateurs can't match her. Instead, every song is drowned out by random yips and 'wayhoo's and much of the magic is lost in the cacophony.

It's hugely frustrating for the majority who just want to watch and enjoy the band that they have come to see.

Garbus is ably backed by a pair of like-minded backing singers, the three of them enthusing the newer songs with the kind of New York African vibe last heard in this form on Talking Heads' 'Remain in Light'.

I leave the venue mightily annoyed. Tune-Yards were terrific tonight, but much of their work was undone by the uncoordinated participation of those who love them most.

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