live music review: tUnE-yArDs , howler, 24 july 2014
It has been two and a half years since tUnE-yArDs last came to Australia, and so much has changed for the band since then. They’ve grown both musically and in number with their latest album ‘Nikki-Nack’ and punters were buzzing around the packed-out venue in anticipation of what would come.
One-man band Oliver Hugh Perry, best known by his moniker DD Dumbo, opened the night. Armed with a beautiful twelve-string guitar, a snare and floor tom, coupled with a looping pedal, he built songs from the ground up in a style reminiscent of Dirty Projectors and Bon Iver. He sheepishly explained to the audience, “I once described myself as a shit version of tUnE-yArDs ” and while there may be a similar method in building songs through loops, Perry lacked the same charisma and catchiness that can be found with tUnE-yArDs’ music. Though Perry is a solid singer and impressive guitarist, but there are downfalls of doing everything yourself, namely the ability to create varied and interesting dynamics. The recorded loops can only do so much for Perry while he focuses on vocals and guitar. The music is interesting, but not very captivating in a live setting.
tUnE-yArDs took the stage with glittery neon costumes and an excited energy. Even though the set got off to a slow start setting up a drum loop and adjusting microphones, the band quickly found their feet. It was a very different show from the last time tUnE-yArDs toured, with a slightly changed sound and very different lineup. The new lineup for the ‘Nikki-Nack’ album tour includes founding members Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner, as well as backup singers/percussionists Dani Markham, Abigail Nessen-Bengson, and Jo Lampert. There is less focus on building songs from scratch with drum and vocal loops, instead leaving room for more detailed, ever-changing layers and a fuller sounding percussion range.
The bulk of the set was drawn from the new album. ‘Hey Life’ and “Sink-O’ were instances where the intricate layers of sound that appear on the album were able to be recreated in a live setting with this band. Having three extra vocalists allowed a stronger and faster buildup to a crescendo, as well as extra sets of hands for miscellaneous percussion sounds. While Garbus’ vocals are incredible on their own, the fact that she no longer needed to loop everything led to greater consistency throughout the set. This meant there were moments where you were confronted with a wall of amazing vocalists, which could be overwhelming if it wasn’t so harmonically impressive.
Lead single ‘Water Fountain’ was a sing-a-long favourite amongst the crowd. Despite being a strong song on the album, ‘Wait for a Minute’ came across as a too mellow and plain amongst the more upbeat and musically impressive songs in the set. The three songs played from the previous album ‘Whokill’ were well received. ‘Gangsta’ and ‘Bizness’ were transformed to fit the new lineup, with the backup singers taking place of the previously prominent saxophones. ‘However, Powa’ took a step back and gave us a look at Garbus working on the loops for herself as she did on the last tour. It was an amazing look into how the band has grown over the years.
The show was high energy, despite the band being apparently extremely jetlagged. Knowing this, it was surprising to get such a strong encore, including a song from the very first tUnE-yArDs album and an extended version of ‘Left Behind’. To say the audience was appreciative of these extras would be putting it very lightly, given that tUnE-yArDs is one of the most unique bands going around at the moment and put on an absolutely enthralling live show.