tUnE-yArDs seemed so playful and free on Wednesday at the Regency, like a band of highly skilled children, in particular the ringleader-pied piper of the bunch, Merrill Garbus. Hopping around barefoot, playing with different toys – pedals and looping samples, ukuleles, and crash drums – all on a square of carpet that had a curvy gray racetrack: genius kindergartner. Or as a show companion described it, “it feels like the world’s greatest camp band.”
Part of their gaiety may have been due to timing – the show, which took place the night before Thanksgiving, yet still nearly sold out – was the very last of a long tour for tUnE-yArDs. Openers Pat Jordache, a spry Montreal quartet with four-part harmonies and two drummers, presented Garbus with a cake during its set to celebrate the end of their joint journey. A very sweet moment, in a night full ’em.
After a brief intermission Garbus was back out on stage, this time dressed more in her stage persona – thick paint streak across her cheeks, one gigantic hoop earring. Her band also wore face-paint, along with sweatbands. My only concern of the entire evening: I feel like perhaps the warpaint thing has had its day, but of course, that’s just a matter of personal opinion. And really, no matter. The music is the important thing here. And that blew me away, every tune.
Each song felt like a jazzy Afro-folk art project; Garbus would create a beat, or a vocal chant, then loop it endlessly, add more varying vocals then jump from peddle to peddle, drum to drum. The two saxophonists free jazzed it, and the bassist played along with Garbus while adding his own tone. She’d count off then one-two-three, switch! The song changed, the beat stopped, or suddenly it was Garbus alone, chilling, beautiful vocals booming through the expansive space.
She’s the mastermind up there, her strength is ever-present, and at times, she nearly growls. She’s like a lioness, mouth open wide with harmonized roars. At one point she yelled out, “this is where we jump!” and the crowd erupted, bouncing in near-unison – my old-lady perch upstairs was suddenly shaking. At another point a beat she created didn’t quite work and she just stopped and smiled, “this isn’t danceable!” adding “people always ask if we ever mess up, now you know!” The next beat worked and we all sighed with relief. As expected, and similar to that last time I caught the act, “Bizness” got the biggest crowd response, but the audience cheered for nearly every other song as well, even the slightly less poppy, moodier new one.
At the end of the official set, or I should say, pre-encore, Pat Jordache got back on stage to celebrate with tUnE-yArDs, while large trash bags full of colorful balloons were released upon the young, absolutely fucking thrilled, crowd. It was a tasty pre-holiday treat, and we didn’t even have to sit at the kid’s table (hell yeah, balcony).