tUnE-yArDs at the Cedar, 5/8/11



May 8, 2011
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis

There's something about tUnE-yArDs. Led by talented multi-instrumentalist vocalist Merrill Garbus, the now-quartet has been touring relentlessly for the past year and half, and it shows; while Garbus's live looping techniques were always a sight to behold, the group has gotten comfortable enough navigating the complex terrain of the songs that they are able to surrender to the music and let the joy of it come to the forefront. And there was so much joy pulsing through the Cedar last night.

Garbus looked downright giddy, and spent every moment between songs grinning as wide as she could and laughing to herself. It was a Craig Finn kind of joy, or maybe a Matt and Kim kind of joy, and it rippled out into the audience and got caught up in Garbus's loop pedals as she recorded, with little "Whoop"s and "Yeah!"s becoming a part of the beats that she was creating with her drums.

That celebratory air made for a sharp dichotomy to some of tUnE-yArDs' darker and more sociopolitical material, starting with songs like "Doorstep" and "Esso," but by the time they got to "Powa," the beauty of the song's arrangement and the sunshine glowing inside the Cedar was almost too much to bear.

"You guys are so well-behaved for the looping parts!" Garbus noted during the intro to "Powa," but the audience couldn't help themselves; watching her set up all the drum parts and harmony vocals through her looping station has always been one of the most mesmerizing elements of her live show.

tUnE-yArDs at the Cedar, 5/8/11
tUnE-yArDs at the Cedar, 5/8/11
tUnE-yArDs at the Cedar, 5/8/11
Photos by Erik Hess

In addition to her bassist and longtime support Nate Brenner, Garbus has a pair of Bay Area saxophone players, Matt Nelson and Kasey Knudson, along with her for this tour, and the additional musicians helped create some additional textures and create some enthralling and abrasive moments.

Garbus focused heavily on material off her new album, w h o k i l l, and it was clear that the audience was already quite familiar with the new songs and, in particular, the first single. When the saxophone players started teasing the rippling hook of "Bizness," the whole near-capacity room erupted in cheers. Later, when a technical difficulty delayed the start of one of their songs, Garbus opened things up for an impromptu Q&A session with the audience, and one of the questions for Garbus (after favorite color, which was magenta, and spirit animal, which was, I believe, a baby red fox), was regarding the choreography for the "Bizness" video; when Garbus asked who had seen the video, about three-fourths of the crowd raised their hands and cheered.

Prior to playing "Gangsta," another blistering track on the new album, Garbus noted that one of the very first times she had played the song live was at the Cedar back in 2009 when she opened for the Dirty Projectors -- a tour that put tUnE-yArDs on the map, so to speak. "Dirty Projectors sounded so good," Garbus remembered. "I was backstage going ahhh [fake crying], I am so lucky."

For the encore, Garbus answered the request of a pair of animated young men in the front row who said they had driven all the way from Winnipeg for the show, pulling out a track from her first album, "Lions." It was a rare treat -- a deep cut, if you will, from her relatively small discography -- and it was a delicate and endearing complement to her rousing final song, "Party Can," with Garbus asking the crowd "Do you want to live?" and all of us answering, quite definitively, "YES!"

tUnE-yArDs at the Cedar, 5/8/11
tUnE-yArDs at the Cedar, 5/8/11
Photos by Erik Hess

Personal bias: I ADORE tUnE-yArDs.
The crowd: Young and amped up.
Overheard in the crowd: "I love you! I cherish you!"
Random notebook dump: I would be remiss to gloss over openers Buke and Gass, though I wish I could say I enjoyed them as much as some of the people around me. While I appreciated what they were trying to do and was impressed by the amount of noise that the two players could produce, I found the nasally vocals and incessant thumping of the bass/guitar (a guitar that had swapped out three regular strings for bass strings) grating after the first few songs.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Erik Hess.

Set list:

tUnE-yArDs at the Cedar, 5/8/11
Photo by Erik Hess

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