Tune-Yards @ Cargo, London
Emily Kendrick checks out the irrepressible Tune-Yards at Cargo
We’re two songs young into the eagerly-awaited set by Tune-Yards, aka New England’s Merrill Garbus, and already there are calls for tape to avoid loop malfunctions. Things have gone from the sudden high of self-supported vocal loops that will mesmerise throughout, as they so easily do on ‘Bizness’, to the snappily conjured beats of ‘Powa’ facing an electronic cut.
Fortunately this interruption is short-lived and the temperature soars in appreciation as normal, beguiling service is resumed. There’s an even smattering in the set of tracks from Bird Brains, and their impact is audible, while she inspirationally makes use of what sound like vocal training exercises to build intricate layers of melody. Harmonising against her lines and lyrics on ‘Real Life Flesh’ with tipsy descending rhythms, it’s looser and more RnB sexy than on record, and certainly more deceptive in the vocal ferocity than her blonde, alien-painted face offers.
‘Hatari’ is met with cheers of familiarity and a kick drum motor, as Merrill declares “this is a great set!” to wash away those premature hiccups. She’s at once a powerhouse of soul and an introverted bedroom genius. With her supporting touring bassist the songs scale vocal expressions that range from Mariah Carey pitches to West African rap.
The set closer ‘Jumping Jack’ feels too soon, but raises the rhetorical chorus “Do you wanna live?” to the crowds almost-too-keen, wailing “YES!” response. We’d take a fair guess that Butlins holiday camps haven’t even seen such audience participation since 1970: where a furious applause prompts a very humbled encore.
Tune-Yards, claiming they never play ‘Sunlight’ because it’s too hard, then offer up a bit of democracy – either a show of hands favouring their “sad attempt at Sunlight”, or a new song. With a 50-50 split, they opt for a go at both.
The former goes like a slightly wonky rickshaw version of the album’s undoubted favourite, where her accompanist rejoins offering stealthy bass backing to what is clearly a challenging guitar-whilst-singing part.
The new track, ‘You Yes You’, builds from embryonic drum rim snaps to a track they insist you should “loose yourself to”. The lyrics say “everything is gonna be ok” while some nasty Prince inflexions of funk guitars bob away, and the careful exuberance being held back all night finally gives way to a jump along finale.
PHOTO CREDIT: DAVID EMERY