tUnE-yArDs and Howler at First Avenue, 11/12/11

tUnE-yArDs and Howler
November 12, 2011
First Avenue

Merrill Garbus sure is one idiosyncratic musical dynamo. After well-received local shows at the Cedar Cultural Center and Entry, Garbus took her traveling tUnE-yArDs musical carnival to the big stage at First Avenue and not only sold-out the large club rather easily, but totally won over everyone that packed the room with her distinct brand of inventive, eccentric rock which boldly pushes the sonic boundaries of both song and structure. It was a jubilant, innovative 75-minute performance that effortlessly captivated the large crowd and left everyone, from all the members of the band on stage right down to Garbus's passionate fans, with a broad smile on their collective painted faces.

The hotly-tipped local quintet Howler took to the stage after an opening set by Pat Jordache, determined to win over some new fans with their last local performance of 2011 before they take off for an extensive UK tour. And, despite being plagued by some sound issues that delayed the start of their 30-minute set, the young band still delivered a catchy, spirited performance in front of their hometown fans. The fast-paced set drew equally from their lively debut EP, This One's Different, and their forthcoming full-length, America Give Up, with the band injecting a welcome ferocity to their material that gave an added depth and intensity to songs both new and old.

Their set opened with a feisty version of "You Like White Women, I Like Cigarettes," and the band never really looked back, tearing though one boisterous track after another without much of a break. "Beach Sluts," from their upcoming LP, was particularly raucous, with lead singer Jordan Gatesmith cheekily saying the track "is about my 6th grade girlfriend who dumped me. But I'm over it, she's dead now." The all-too-brief set continued in that jocular vein, with Gatesmith playfully telling the crowd towards the end that "we've got a couple more songs to fuck up for you."

But it was clear that no matter how self-deprecating the band is, they have sturdy, singable songs that will win any crowd over, no matter how far away from home their current tour takes them. And, as they closed with an unruly version of "Told You Once," it was quite clear from the reception of the capacity crowd at First Ave. that their exuberant songs had already won over Minneapolis as well.

tUnE-yArDs and Howler at First Avenue, 11/12/11

​So the overflow audience was good and warmed up by the time tUnE-yArDs took the stage, with Garbus leading the way on a boisterous new song, "Party Can (Do You Want To Live?)," while her band (bassist Nate Brenner and two saxophonists) eventually joined in with her. After the vigorous new track got everyone's attention, Garbus and her band really set the place off with a riotous run-through of her current single (and one of the clear reasons the show sold-out) "Gangsta." As Garbus stood defiantly crossing her drumsticks in time with the animated chorus, it was a unifying call to arms for all in attendance, and one of many electrifying moments in the show. That version was so good, in fact, that it quite literally blew Garbus' socks clean off, as she played the rest of the show barefoot after quickly removing them after she finished the song.

After a loud ovation, Garbus remarked humbly that "there are a LOT of people here tonight," before ushering in the Mediterranean rhythms of "Es-So." With Garbus' deft percussion and ukulele work, it's so hard to catch exactly where her loops begin and her improvisation starts, but all of it adds up into one intoxicating, inventive song structure that truly is unlike anything else currently out there in the music world. Garbus introduced a potent version of "Riotriot" by saying, "It's Saturday night, right--a perfect night for dancing and romancing. So let's dance and romance." The crowd was totally under her command at this point, and danced and romanced their hearts out in time with tUnE-yArDs imaginative, uplifting material.

"Powa" and "Killa" both simply slayed, as the added textures of the saxophones gave the songs a free-jazz feel while Garbus was able to create layers of sonic flourishes underneath her rambunctious vocals. It was fascinating to watch her sample drum beats against the side of her snare drum amidst quick bursts from her ukulele, all forming the base for the rest of the band to build on top of, eventually swelling into a wild rendition of "Bizness" that ignited both the crowd and the band.

tUnE-yArDs and Howler at First Avenue, 11/12/11

​"You sound like an arena," Garbus gushed after one particularly loud ovation, "I don't want to grow your Minneapolis egos too much, but you're the largest crowd we've played to on this tour. Thank you so much." You could easily tell that sentiment was heartfelt and genuine, as Garbus was initially taken aback by the large turnout, but then fed off that passionate support of her fans to deliver a truly spellbinding set. "You Yes You" really lit the fuse, with the crowd and the band alike both jumping in time to the track's festive rhythms.

Another new song, the long, exploratory track "Quit" kept the momentum high, as Garbus spiritedly screamed "I'm not dead yet" along with the band's infectious beat. After sincerely thanking the Cedar, First Avenue, and the Current for their continued support, Garbus went on to say, "We're so amazed by you. Thank you so much, Minneapolis," before a rousing version of "My Country" drew the main set assertively to a close.

The encore began with an experimental sax intro, before the rest of the band joined them on stage and hit on the smooth groove of "Real Live Flesh." It was truly an incendiary version of the track, and flowed smoothly into the dynamic closing track "Fiya," which gloriously brought the night to a close. Merrill Garbus brought her merry band of tUnE-yArDs into First Avenue and simply owned the stage and the evening, delivering an untamed set of vibrant songs that simply lit up both the club and the faces of all who witnessed it, whether they had face-paint on or not.

tUnE-yArDs and Howler at First Avenue, 11/12/11
tUnE-yArDs and Howler at First Avenue, 11/12/11

Critic's Bias: I saw tUnE-yArDs steal the show opening for Dirty Projectors at the Cedar in '09, but this version of the band is a different beast entirely. Such a bold, confident step forward for Garbus and her sound.

The Crowd: Packed with fans that either came in obsessed with tUnE-yArDs or left being newly converted fans of the band.

Overheard In The Crowd: "Those are the biggest earrings I've ever seen a musician wear on stage."

Random Notebook Dump: While tUnE-yArDs recorded work tends to be a bit divisive amongst music fans, their live show is such an exultant affair that it's hard not to be swept up in the boundless joy and effervescent spirit which Garbus exudes.

For More Photos See our full slideshow by Erik Hess.


Party Can (Do You Want To Live?)(New Song)







You Yes You

Quit (New Song)

My Country

Real Live Flesh (Encore)

Fiya (Encore)

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