There’s a moment about half way into the show that really sums up the unique appeal of a tUnE-yArDs set, like at London’s Hoxton Bar & Kitchen on Thursday, September 15th. Merrill Garbus lets cry with another wordless bluesy howl, holds the note to a seriously impressive point and, as the crowd cheers approval, seems to carry it on right past the point of physical possibility. Somewhere in there was a join where it switched to being a recorded loop of her voice, but by the time that’s become clear she’s already grinned, switched to hammering away at the drums in front of her and moved on and there’s no time to think of it.
Solo acts looping themselves with pedal trickery is nothing new (see Owen Pallett and, er, KT Tunstall…) but tUnE-yArDs’ intricate, creative and hyperactive songs make particularly stunning use of it, coupled with her amazing voice. There are also guitar and occasional parps of saxophone provided by her small and slightly underemployed backing band, but she’s very much centre stage in every sense, constructing songs from scratch and giving off an infectious sense of having a great time which is definitely picked up by the crowd.
The only slight downside is that for all of her impressive efforts, having got the catchy lilting ukulele of Es-so and chants of “Gangsta” out of the way within the first few songs, nothing else quite reaches the same level of energy until the raucous call and response “yeah-YEAH!” of “Party Can (Do You Want To Live?)” in the encore. You sense, though, that it’s only a matter of writing a few more songs in the vein of second album w h o k i l l (QRO review)’s finest moments before she’ll have a set that’s a complete joy from start to finish.