Tune-Yards made their way to Bushwick’s Brooklyn Steel last Wednesday, June 15th, in support of their excellent fifth LP, Sketchy. The album was released back in March of 2021 and like most bands today, this is the first opportunity for Tune-Yards to tour behind the record.
The band has released all five of their albums on 4AD records dating back to 2009. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Merrill Garbus took time at the end of the show to personally thank the label for being the backbone of their career.
Tune-Yards is the musical project of Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner and is an eclectic mix of art-pop, worldbeat, lo-fi, and vocal play. Garbus has a history as a puppeteer, and this method of visceral expression comes out in her performance style. Most of the songs have intricate vocal loops and patterns, all of which are recorded and performed live while Garbus bounces around the stage, engaging the fans. She also paraded various signs around stage, serving as introductions for her banter between songs.
Tune-Yards made it a point early in the show at Brooklyn Steel to remind the audience that we are all living on Native American land and that fact must be constantly acknowledged. There was also a long interlude later in the show (noted on the setlist as “extinction memorial”) where Garbus instructed the audience on the plight of the Bramble Cay melomys. The rodent, native to islands off the coast of Australia, is confirmed to be the first mammal to go extinct due to climate change. The rising sea level surrounding the low-lying islands destroyed their habitat and led to the rodent’s extinction.
The music of Tune-Yards is impossibly difficult to categorize. The band performs live as a trio, but with all the vocal and synth looping, once the songs are structured live they feel larger than life. Garbus’ vocal abilities are captivating and have always been a fundamental component of the music. Sketchy track “Hypnotized” is a prime example and has been a mainstay in this tour’s setlists. Garbus delivers a bit of vocal play over a sparse, but deliberate drum beat to open the track, before an array of art-pop synths and a chunky bass line fill in the groove. The band also featured the track “Gangsta” from their second LP, Whokill. The song has been one of Tune-Yards’ most succesful, appearing in TV shows Letterkenny, Orange Is The New Black, Weeds, and The Good Wife.
Tune-Yards’ tour concluded over the weekend, with a final show on Saturday, June 18th, at Union Transfer in Philadelphia. The band spent a lot of time throughout the show thanking the people that have been supporting and enabling them to create their music. Garbus is also a new mother, and she relished in that as her baby was off-stage sharing in the moment. Garbus lamented that she felt that Tune-Yards would never be able to tour again after the pandemic, admitting that these shows were also a celebration of their miniature victory over COVID. Head over to the band’s website to see a handful of one-off shows they have scheduled, and see NYS Music’s full photo gallery from Brooklyn Steel below.