The Tune-Yards are the ever evolving brain child of Merrill Garbus. Part Rage Against the Machine, part Polyphonic Spree, all danceable. Starting life as a one-woman ukulele punk band, a continuous evolution has brought the band to the forefront of socially conscious music. This is music that makes you think, makes you uncomfortable, and makes you dance, without being preachy. They brought their message of hope to the First Ave Mainroom on Friday night.
First up was vocalist/violinist Sudan Archives. Born Brittney Denise Parks, this twenty something writes, produces and performs all of her own material. This self taught musician draws influences from African beats, R&B and electronica. With just a violin and a track machine, Sudan lays down a profoundly layered backdrop to highlight her virtuosic skills. She pounds the instrument with the bow, almost drum-like. Along with her beautiful voice, she had the Mainroom in a trance. “Come Meh Way” had the audience moving with its percussive backbeats, amazingly plucked out on her electrified violin.
The Tune-Yards came on right around 10:15, the stage dark with a white backlit screen . With a shower of bass and drums, front woman Merrill Garbus kicked off the show from a platform in the middle of the stage. Merrill’s amazing voice was crystal clear through the magnificent Mainroom sound system. She didn’t stay on the platform long, engaging the crowd from the edge of the stage. The band leaned heavily on their latest release I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, with 8 of there 13 song set coming from that collection of tunes. The three piece band definitely hit above their weight, the lush rush of music filling the Mainroom.
With a gnarly, distorted bass, “Gangsta” had Merill twisted and contorted as she belted out the lyrics with authority. Bassist Nate Brenner effortlessly lays down highly danceable lines, forcing the crowd to move. The song seems to be an ironic look at artists who claim street cred, yet never really lived the thug life. The intense drumming continued, totemic and intricate on “Water Fountain”. Drummer Dani Markham was the definition of controlled chaos. While appearing downright deranged at times, there was always a contagious back beat that kept the crowd dancing. “Colonizer” was another tour de force, as Garbus turns the mirror on herself, even it it makes her feel confused and uncomfortable.
The Tune-Yards proved that you can have danceable, joyful music, but still raise serious questions about our society.