Tune-Yards @ L’Astral – 7th March 2018

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Tune-Yards in Montreal

There was a time, circa 2008, where you couldn’t escape the presence of Merrill Garbus’ Tune-Yards project in Montreal. A New England native living right here in our city, she opened many a show here (Le Divan Orange and Theatre Plaza were a couple I saw if memory serves…), before moving out to California shortly after releasing her debut record. Montreal shows have understandably become fewer and farther between since then, and so when her latest tour rolls into town these evening, in support of her fourth record I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, there’s definitely a homecoming vibe around l’Astral tonight.

The stage is in total darkness when the band enter the stage, and the set begins in the same manner, as Merrill begins to construct the harmonies of Home, loop by loop, before stage lights illuminate and the song explodes with a huge bass drop that draws huge cheers from the crowd, as all of our innards rumble, and Merrill prowls the stage barefoot while bandmate Nate Brenner applies the bass line in generous measure. The floor gets their groove on in a serious way on next song Look At Your Hands, before a percussion-heavy version of new song ABC 123 showcases Merrill’s ukulele skills. The song winds up with an amusing choreographed dance move between Merrill, Nate, and their touring drummer. A bass-heavy Water Fountain follows that, with all in attendance busting out the trademark “WOO HA WOO HA!” at the top of their lungs; it sounds absolutely massive in the live setting!

Right after, Merrill remarks “It’s good to see you dancing!” In reply, a voice in the crowd shouts out “Thank you for coming home!”, to which Merrill replies, “Yeah, this next song I wrote here!” Powa is the song in question, and again sees Merrill slowly layer vocal harmonies to construct the song, before singing INTO the ukulele to wrap it up. Discordant drum beats and bass lines are the order of the day on Now As Then, with its scratchy techno beat merging into the fantastic new song Colonizer, the HUGE dance number that should be on everyone’s playlist this summer. An extended breakdown in the middle makes it sound even bigger than on record.

Things slow down a little on Coast To Coast, before the highlight of the night arrives in the form of new song Honesty. The stage darkens as pink lights blaze in Merrill’s face alone, before falling to total silence as she sings the lines “This river runs so deep / hold your breath to reach the bottom.” Even the usually noisy crowd at the bar are deathly silent, you could hear a pin drop; it’s incredible. Merrill utters the spoken word part that immediately follows: “Close your eyes / get in touch with the physical sensations coursing through your body.” In response, everyone around me, quite literally, closes their eyes, and I soon follow suit. And she’s absolutely right. I sense the lights flickering on my eyelids, the bass rumbles through my body, the vocals twinkle in my ears… it’s an electric, surreal experience with the eyes closed. A drum-heavy Gangsta and Heart Attack close out the main set.

After a brief pause, Bizness opens up the encore, with Merrill creating the most intricate intro yet, and once again, l’Astral is dazzled. Probably about 5 different vocal samples are again recorded and looped to spectacular effect, and once Nate’s bass joins the party, the whole room reverberates once more. A thumping Free rounds of the night after 80 wonderful minutes. It’s fitting, on Then As Now, Merrill proclaims “I am exceptional / I am an exception / I am the exception.” That pretty much sums up the Tune-Yards experience; an exceptional exception from the concert norm.



Look at Your Hands

ABC 123

Water Fountain


Now As Then


Coast to Coast



Heart Attack



Review & photos – Simon Williams?

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