Ladies and Gentlemen, Merrill Garbus – aka tUnE-YaRdS – is performing at the London Scala, and she’s killing it.
Looping African-tinged poly-rhythms one moment, rocking the ukulele the next, and blowing minds left, right and centre with her peerless vocal dexterity, Garbus is truly one of the greatest live performers in the world at the moment. A word-of-mouth sensation whose hype has deservedly grown to immense proportions, her combination of musical talent, innovative songwriting and effortlessly compelling charisma makes her an absolute joy to watch.
With the release of her ambitious second album W H O K I L L, she’s acquired some extra musicians to give some extra oomph to her songs which, to an extent, is a mixed blessing. Part of tUne-YaRdS’ original appeal is what wonders Garbus can weave on her own, with only a loop-pedal, ukulele, some drums and her voice at her disposal- now. While the new material has been composed with the “full band” angle in mind – and certainly the blast of saxophones and funk-infused bass rhythms play an integral part for many of the songs – at times her band threaten to overwhelm her.
That minor issue aside, it’s impossible to fault her. Vocally, she remains as astoundingly versatile as ever; from the almost grotesque growls at the end of ‘Hatari’ to the powerhouse Mariah Carey falsetto that closes the sublime ‘Powa.’ ‘Bizness’ gets the crowd shaking their asses, ‘Gangsta’ gets them singing along. It’s a triumph of a performance, and a heartening reminder than in these days of identikit US indie-rock outfits and samey electronic gubbins, there’s still room for a true original to emerge and get the acclaim she rightly deserves.