• tUnE-yArDs, Buke + Gass, Fake Babies 5/17/2011

    Mag 21 2011, 20:07

    Music can hold much bad influence in societies. But it can also unite whole crowds of people, even if only for one night, and that’s what happened at the tUnE-yArDs concert on May 17th, 2011. tUnE-yArDs is the experimental pop project of Merrill Garbus, a Connecticut native. Although the name is somewhat typographically exasperating, her live shows entirely make up for this. Two bands played before her, who were also stellar: Fake Babies and Buke + Gass. What I loved most about the concert was not only the music, but also the atmosphere. Everyone loved the musical flow, and for one night in everyone’s lives, we could all participate in a collective listening experience. The concert illuminated the best part of the concert going experience.
    Part of the joy of this particular concert was the venue itself. Daniel Street shows what a club should be: calm, relaxed, and/or excited at all the right times. It is hard to get a venue that is a perfect balance of all these factors. On one extreme, there are venues like Toad’s Place, where one can’t escape the ever-present stench of marijuana and crass suburbanites. On the other side of the spectrum exist places such as Woolsey Hall, where no one in the audience would get up and dance if the conductor of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra told them to. Daniel Street exists in perfect equilibrium between these two points: people are ready to dance, but nobody gets too rowdy. This made the concert much more enjoyable. Everyone was willing to have a good time.
    First up were New Haven local band Fake Babies. I had heard good things about their music, but the lead band member was missing that night due to unexplained circumstances. The band was trying very hard to cope: one member was doubling up variously on drums and bass. They relied heavily on danceable prerecorded synth loops. Everyone was still warming up to the night, though, so not too many people actually danced. The audience stood in a semicircle far away from the stage and did an awkward little shuffle, trying to move to the beat as inconspicuously as possible. But I appreciated the musical effort.
    Next up was the duo Buke + Gass. This outfit was made up of Brooklynites Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez. The group’s approach to their music was intriguing. Although they were only two musicians, they managed to make themselves sound like a large band. Both Dyer and Sanchez were playing various percussion instruments (bass drum, tambourine, etc.) with their feet, as well as playing on their handmade instruments. Dyer’s “buke” is actually a baritone ukulele, while Sanchez’s “gass” is guitar/bass hybrid. It makes sense that the duo constructs their own instruments, because their music is fittingly raucous and unpolished. The group abandons traditional harmonies in favor of a more rhythmic take on music. But Dyer’s flexible voice, fluctuating between ethereal and harsh, floats atop the rough percussion rhythms, creating an even starker contrast in the music. When the music resolves into easily recognizable chord progressions, it makes the transition from dissonance to consonance even more interesting. Overall, the effect comes out well. This impression may have been helped by the volume of their music- it was so loud that it was hard to make out the intricacies of the music. But from what I could tell, Buke + Gass did a great job of combining opposites in their music to forge a genre that’s entirely their own.
    No matter how much Arone Dyer of Buke + Gass bid the audience to start dancing, most people at the concert had truly come to move to the music of tUnE-yArDs. When lead band member Merrill Garbus was setting up audio equipment, there were many cries of “We love you, Merrill!” When the whole band finally came on, everyone erupted in wild cheers and applause. The first song Garbus started out the night with was a new one, not off any of her albums. It was a song that made people want to dance upon just hearing it. It also reaffirmed the core ethos of tUnE-yArDs. For one, the group started out as a solo project of Garbus’, and it became immediately clear during the opener that she was in control of the group. The three other musicians in the group were only added on after tUnE-yArDs became relatively popular. Nate Brenner on bass was added first; the saxophone section (Kasey Knudsen on alto sax, Matt Nelson on tenor) had just been commandeered for their latest tour. Although tUnE-yArDs has steadily morphed into a four person group, the band is still only one woman at its core, and Merrill shows that through her most impressive instrumental talents: her loop pedal, and her voice. She has mastered both, and her skill shows in her music. Merrill functions as the lead singer, the ukulele player, and the drummer- she makes drum loops by building up patterns with the loop pedal on one drum at a time. Isolated on individual drums, the rhythms sound lopsided at first, gradually transforming into the full-fledged beat of the song. This additive theme process is reminiscent of the works of composers such as Steve Reich and other minimalists, and is fascinating when watched live. Garbus taps on anything she can find: the head of her floor tom, its rim, even her microphone stand. All these sounds looped together sound like an actual drum set.
    Garbus’ other extraordinary talent is her voice. While talking to others at the concert, someone remarked to me that she sounds like “a cross between Fela Kuti, hip hop, and Animal Collective.” Her voice can be simultaneously soothing and upsetting, and this is extraordinarily powerful. It is a call to action, but also childish. At several times during the night, she beseeched the audience to jump- as in, jump up and down. The audience did as they were told. Most of all, her music just inspires happiness. Everyone in the crowd had broken out in broad smiles by the end of the night. This is a great accomplishment for a band like tUnE-yArDs. Many bands preach anger, despair, and sadness. Merrill Garbus does sing about some serious issues, and many of her songs have themes of race, gender inequality and music misappropriation from African cultures. But there’s also something to be said for letting people have a good time. Merrill Garbus and tUnE-yArDs exude a joyfulness that hasn’t been seen for a long time in the world of indie rock, and this makes audiences happy. It’s a beautiful thing when, even for a few hours, music lovers can come together and appreciate music. By the last song Merrill performed, “Hatari,” everyone was dancing and enjoying themselves. tUnE-yArDs is a perfect example of one of the best parts of music: Merrill Garbus and the rest of her band bring people together, and play happy music too. If more bands could reach out to a broad audience and do the same thing, the world would be a better place. Fake Babies, Buke + Gass, and tUnE-yArDs unified an audience for one night, and that is truly a great thing.