tUnE-yArDs, Captain’s Rest – Glasgow, Wed 15 Jun 2011
Merrill Garbus is an offbeat, un-obvious, must-see pop act
Three years after she self-released homemade album BiRd-BrAiNs, recognition and even a degree of hype are finally starting to come the way of Merrill Garbus, aka tUnE-yArDs, and so it is that her Wednesday night show at the Captain’s Rest (a venue she passed through 18-months ago to considerably less fanfare) is one of the most oversubscribed that the tiny venue has seen of late.
Support act Thousands start enjoyably enough – the Seattle duo are a well-matched pair, their voices harmonising prettily together in a way that immediately sets murmurs of Simon and Garfunkel loose in the crowd – but ultimately they don’t have the songs to hold the attention for long. Their ordinariness only serves to highlight just how unique a prospect the woman who brought them on tour is – as if she needed it.
It’s that quality of uniqueness that makes this show stand out, together with an unmistakable, genuine warmth. Garbus makes other performers look like they don’t really mean it. It’s no coincidence that the one-song encore of ‘Doorstep’ feels very much like that rare thing – a genuine encore, from a band still fresh to the game, still overwhelmed by all that’s happening to them, still loving it all. Backed by bassist/knob-twiddler Nate Brenner and two gutsy saxophonists, Garbus sings words that are guileless and honest to the point of shocking, but a heartfelt warmth shines through even as she’s screaming something confrontational into the middle distance.
Not only is she possessed of an incredible singing voice, Garbus makes more use of it than most: not just a vehicle for words, it’s an instrument, and one that she plays to build up layers of animalistic hoots and growls, rhythmic thrums and soaring choruses with stunning deftness. And for those who think they’ve seen enough of musicians messing about with looper pedals - here’s a masterclass in how it should be done. What has become a hackneyed trope in lesser hands has its endless possibilities teased out here as Garbus builds up incredibly intricate, offbeat rhythms with just a couple of drums, occasional ukulele and that voice, bringing elements in and out with faultless timing, stop-starting and changing tack in ever-satisfying directions.
In every respect Merrill Garbus chooses the un-obvious, the wonky, the odd, and yet from the mix emerge infectious pop songs that have the assembled crowd in a frenzy from the outset. Forget Gaga, if you want to see a one-off, sell your granny for a tUnE-yArDs ticket now.