Imagine The Supremes backed by a scorching Afrobeat ensemble channelling Randy Newman’s gift for discomfiting lyrics and you’ll get an idea of the polyrhythmic assault on the senses that is Tune-Yards.
The project is the brainchild of Merill Garbus, a 35-year-old former puppeteer, who has the sweat-drenched audience at the packed Concorde2 eating out of her hand.
She recently told The New Yorker magazine: “I hope that people who come to see the show feel that there’s risk involved, that the whole ship could go down at any moment. An audience deserves these rough edges.”
So it proved on the night, with the occasional snafu underlying the well-drilled performances propelled by Garbus’s collaborator Nate Brenner, on bass and synths.
The sound is celebratory, defying the audience not to be swept away by the carnival tempo.
Live, the dark undercurrents evident on the new album Nikki Nack, may be missed by an audience understandably keen to go with the celebratory flow.
When Garbus hollers: “I come from the land of slaves/ Let’s go Redskins, let’s go Braves!” it’s a polemical poke at racism while ‘Manchild’ takes down machismo swagger.
This is music that engages your brain while it kicks your ass.
Here’s the official video for Water Fountain, the single from the new album:
This review was first published in The Argus on June 27.