It’ll probably never happen. but I really hope that someday, Leslie & The LYs open for tUnE-yArDs. Even though their music is very different, their stage shows share the same sense of childlike wonder and DIY inventiveness. And they both have great backup dancers. And look good in gold lamé.
It’s not just the music that’s different, of course. Where Leslie Hall is all tongue-in-cheek irreverence, Merrill Garbus is an earnest performer who inspires a kind of rapt attention in her fans that I haven’t seen at a show in months. There were hardly any outstretched cell phones (which is why I didn’t take many pictures—I didn’t want to be the only asshole with a camera) and often, when she was building a loop with her percussion and vocals, you could hear a pin drop in the packed Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. “You guys are so quiet,” she noted at one point. “It’s so awesome to play for such a respectful audience.”
She focused her set on material from Nikki Nack, the latest tUnE-yArDs album, which is growing on me even though I still think it’s not as good as 2011’s brilliant w h o k i l l. Nikki Nack is both noisier and sparser than its predecessor, made up almost entirely of layered vocals and percussion and Nate Brenner’s fluid basslines. Live, many of the tracks seemed clearly designed to get the crowd moving, and most of them did. But nothing in the show got a bigger cheer than Garbus’ ukulele, which she broke out for two w h o k i l l tracks (it never appears on Nikki Nack): “Bizness” and an absolutely show-stopping version of “Powa,” tUnE-yArDs’ version of a lighters-up power ballad (except this crowd was, of course, far too respectful to hold up lighters, real or virtual).
Still, I came away from this show with new-found appreciation for several Nikki Nack songs, particularly “Wait for a Minute,” which showcases Garbus’ underutilized gift for melody, and “Time of Dark,” whose soaring, Afrobeat-tinged chorus has a Peter Gabriel-like sense of grandeur and mystery. She also did a great encore version of “Rocking Chair,” bringing out Amelia Meath from opening act Sylvan Esso to provide haunting harmonies while Garbus and her backup singers stomped and shouted like a chain gang in an Alan Lomax field recording.
My other favorite part of the show was on a more personal note: It turns out Garbus’
boyfriend father Bill has the same birthday as me. She had the crowd sing “Happy Birthday” to him so she could record the whole thing on her phone and send him the video the next day. Us June 6th babies sure do get around!