2011 has so far has offered up many a musical treat, with several under-the-radar artists finally crashing though into the consciousness of a wider audience. Others who managed a similar feat a couple of years ago have returned with exemplary new albums and confirmed their status as a heavyweight of their respective ‘scenes’. Tune-Yards and Beiruthave both acheived just that and are appearing tonight at what’s effectively a showcase of two of the year’s most prominent artists.
Tune-Yards (excuse me if I don’t engage in the quirky capitalisation of letters in the name) open and the first thought to enter our heads is how bassy and unbalanced the sound is tonight, especially from the front/right side of the audience. We then remember that we’re at the O2 Academy in Brixton and a move towards the centre of the venue is required to benefit from any kind of sound balance. The sound is impeccable there and the lights, movement and festivity that make Tune-Yards shows such a highlight of the live summer circuit is as present and vivacious as ever. Merrill Garbus, adorned in the tight black, mad sleeved outfit now synonymous with Tune-Yards performances leads her band through the world melodies and driving tribal beats of her debut, w h o k i l l .
‘Gangsta’ and ‘Bizness’ are the tunes that lift the roof and the ever impressive loop/manipulating display is as hypnotic as ever. Having had the good fortune to witness the Tune-Yards experience in various settings this summer, the best – or certainly the most endearing part – of each performance is the visible joy on band members’ faces who, like wide eyed youngsters, jump around in circles as screams of “Do you wanna live?” ignite the crowd into an excitable, swaying mass. How exactly does Garbus manages to blast out these tracks with such power and ferocity, night after night? A weaker performer would have bowed out long ago with a case of severed vocal chords or (less seriously) strep throat – but Garbus is a truly special performer and her warm and infectious spirit affects even the most reluctant of crowd participants.
Although somewhat different in pace and style from their opener, it’s easy to see why fans of either act would admire the other. Both Tune-Yards and Beirut relish the textures, the process and the method of putting music together before their audience’s eyes. So, as Tune-Yards have dazzled with their electronic layering and rhythmic builds tonight, it’s now Beirut’s turn to entrance with brass-led harmonies and soothing, serene vocals to lead us through tales of travels and times gone by.
‘Scenic World’ is tonight’s opener and played before a vast, draping velvet curtain illuminated by film studio spotlights. It’s not long until crowd pleaser ‘Elephant Gun’ is resurrected to the evident exaltation of the sold-out crowd. The set is made up of a satisfying mix of new and old with ‘East Harlem’, the first song to have been released from this year’s The Rip Tide, as the stand out track. A typically charming and subtly charismatic Zach Condon leads his troupe through a rich and hypnotic range of Beirut tracks, with each instrument offering hints to the variety of international influences and genres that Condon brings together. The crowd are hugely attentive – after all, it’s been a while since we’ve had a new album to celebrate and so each spectator hangs on to Condon’s every syllable and instrument change as the band make their way through a mammoth and very well received set.
A six song encore closes the show and the band depart with the same smiles that dominated their faces throughout. It’s a a highly anticipated return and, without a doubt, a hugely successful one for all involved.