Merrill Garbus has been determined to play by her own rules. As Tune-Yards, she has cut a sound of rock backbeats with complex polyrhythms for the last decade, and slightly beyond. With her unkempt hair, vibrant stripes of face paint and often-colourful clothing choices, Garbus welcomed attendees at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall literally in the dark. The only illumination, the harsh blasts of fluorescents, set an uncertain mood as she picked up her drumsticks and began banging away.
Pleasing the crowd by working fan favourite Gangsta early on, Merrill Garbus sped up her delivery into an all-out wallop, accompanied by bass player/collaborator, Nate Brenner, and an additional touring drummer. With a torrent of percussion and superbly nuanced harmonies, the initial stark stage lighting also gave way to a technicolour explosion, matching uncanny hooks while begging the crowd to move their bodies. By contrast, her new album I Can Feel You Creep into My Private Life confronts challenging questions (i.e. identity, appropriation) in a manner that may have flown over many heads. Gone were her confetti experimentations of the past, now replaced by a serious, more mature artist.
Nevertheless, throughout the night’s set, Garbus manoeuvred the texture and tempo of her layered loop effects with her most vital instrument: her voice. On Powa, she effortlessly alternated from delicate songstress to possessed wailer, ukulele clutched tightly in hand, building her towering sound like an architect. Overall, there was a strong animalism to the entire evening, from Nate Brenner’s robust baselines to Merrill Garbus’ croon, which proved equally majestic, raw, and real. With their music so creative and modern, Tune-Yards almost seem like an anomaly in today’s music realm.