Weird Live Review: tUnE-yArDs


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!


New tUnE-yArDs album “Nikki Nack” now streaming on NPR


Merrill Garbus releases her third tUnE-yArDs album, Nikki Nack, on May 6th, but you can hear the whole thing now over on Does having your album streamed on NPR automatically make you less weird? Probably, but Merrill had weirdness to spare, so we’ll give her a pass.

Nikki Nack is pretty much what we’ve come to expect from tUnE-yArDs: lots of school-yard chant vocals, simple but syncopated beats and basslines, sparse instrumentation that sounds like it was recorded inside a mason jar. It’s a bit cleaner and more percussive than 2011’s w h o k i l l, and occasionally even sounds like Garbus’ take on modern, high-octane pop-R&B, like on the epic “Real Thing.” But it’s still one of more idiosyncratic things you’ll hear get any mainstream media attention this year.

You can pre-order Nikki Nack for a mere $10 from Now let’s play this post out with tUnE-yArDs’ Pee-wee’s Playhouse-inspired video for “Water Fountain,” shall we?

We are rocking out to this new tUnE-yArDs song


It’s been a rough week here at Weird Band HQ, what with the passing of one of our idols, GWAR’s Dave Brockie. But let’s end the week on an up note, shall we? Courtesy of Merrill Garbus and her brilliantly quirky musical alter ego, tUnE-yArDs.

Garbus is gearing up for the release of her third album, Nikki Nack, which is due out May 6th on 4AD Records. She teased us earlier this month with an album “mega-mix,” but now she’s finally giving us a full track to chew on. It’s called “Water Fountain” and it makes us want to jump rope in the spray of a busted fire hydrant.

tUnE-yArDs also announced a bunch more tour dates, which is good news for us, because her first gig here at L.A. sold out in about five seconds. We should have better luck scoring tickets to her second L.A. show at the much larger Fonda Theater, so we can post a review and some crappy Instagram photos for your delectation. Full dates after the clip.

tUnE-yArDs 2014 tour dates:

4/23 Denver, CO – Pepsi Center*
4/26 Kansas City, MO – Starlight Theatre*
4/27 St. Louis, MO – Chaifetz Arena*
4/29 Columbus, OH – Schottenstein Center*
5/1 Nashville, TN – Bridgestone Arena*
5/2 Atlanta, GA – Aarons Amphitheatre at Lakewood*
5/5 Los Angeles, CA – Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever
5/7 Brooklyn, NY – Rough Trade
5/12 London, England – Village Underground
5/14 Berlin, Germany – Berghain
5/15 Hamburg, Germany – Nochtspeicher
5/16 Brussels, Belgium – Les Nuits–Cirque Royal
5/18 Amsterdam, Netherlands – Bitterzoet
5/19 Paris, France – Cafe de La Danse
5/23 Bend, OR – Les Schwab Ampitheater†
5/25 George, WA – Sasquatch Festival
5/26 Boise, ID – Knitting Factory Concert House
5/27 Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
5/3 Dallas, TX – Granada Theater
6/1 Houston, TX – Free Press Summerfest
6/3 Phoenix, AZ – The Crescent Ballroom
6/5 Los Angeles, CA – The Fonda Theatre
6/6 San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore
6/13 Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
6/15 Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
6/16 Boston, MA – Royale Boston
6/18 Montreal, Quebec – La Tulipe
6/19 Toronto, Ontario – NXNE, Massey Hall
6/21 Dover, DE – Firefly Festival
6/22 New York, NY – Webster Hall
6/23 New York, NY – Webster Hall
6/26 Brighton, England – Concorde 2
6/30 Manchester, England – Gorilla
7/1 Leeds, England – Cockpit
7/2 Bristol, England – Trinity
7/17 Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
7/19 Chicago, IL – Pitchfork Music Festival
7/20 Louisville, KY – Forecastle Festival
9/3 London, England – Brixton Electric

*opening for Arcade Fire

†opening for The National

Hear a megamix of tUnE-yArDs’ new album, “Nikki Nack”


It’s been three years since we heard any new music from tUnE-yArDs, the hard-to-type-but-fun-to-listen-to musical project of Merrill Garbus. After conquering the indie rock world and landing on pretty much every critic’s “Best of 2011” list, Garbus went to Haiti to study Haitian drumming and dance and hand out some free food and clothing to earthquake victims. Then she came home to make a “wild mess” of a new record called Nikki Nack, which is now scheduled for release on May 6th (May 5th, if you live anywhere except the U.S.) on 4AD Records.

No tracks from Nikki Nack are out yet, but last week, Garbus released a “megamix” of the whole album, which you can check out below. She’s also announced a handful of North American and European tour dates, including an already-sold-out stop here in L.A. that we’re going to try to get into anyway. We’ve actually still never been to a tUnE-yArDs show and we really need to fill the Merrill Garbus-sized void in our lives pronto.

Tour dates after the megamix clip.

tUnE-yArDs Live

May 5th – Masonic Lodge @ Hollywood Forever, Los Angeles, CA
May 7th – Rough Trade, Brooklyn, NY
May 12th – Village Underground, London
May 14th – Berghain, Berlin
May 15th – Nochtspeicher, Hamburg
May 16th – Les Nuits-Cirque Royal, Brussels
May 18th – Bitterzoet, Amsterdam
May 19th – Café de La Danse, Paris
May 23rd – Les Schwab Ampitheater, Bend, OR (w/ The National)
May 23rd – 25th – Sasquatch Festival, George, WA
May 31st – June 1st – Free Press Summerfest, Houston, TX
June 18th – 22nd – NXNE, Massey Hall, Toronto, ON
June 19th – 22nd – Firefly Festival, Dover, DE
July 19th – Pitchfork Festival, Chicago, IL

New tUnE-yArDs video for “My Country” makes us wish we had cooler childhoods

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So Merrill Garbus and her tUnE-yArDs project have a new music video, and just like “Bizness” before it, it’s awesome. It’s so awesome it actually kind of bummed us out a little. How come we never got to dance around in a video with beating disembodied hearts and bad-ass black warpaint when we were kids? All we did was play stickball and put pennies on the railroad tracks. Even if anyone had been around to videotape us and post it on YouTube, it would have looked colorless and sad compared to the riot of youthful energy that is the “My Country” clip.

Even if it might make you, too, feel a pang of regret for your wasted youth, we highly recommend feasting your eyes on the video below. And while you’re at it, check out the Kickstarter campaign Merrill started to support the SF Rock Project, the nonprofit music school attended by all the bad-ass kids featured in the clip. If the campaign meets its $10,000 goal, it’ll create a lending library of musical instruments for all those little future rock stars to practice on. Who knows? Maybe one of them will grow up to be the next tUnE-yArDs. Although come to think of it, the chances of the universe ever producing more than one Merrill Garbus are probably infinity to one.

tUnE-yArDs on Jimmy Kimmel Live

Hey, it looks like this whole Weird Band of the Week thing we’re instituting in 2012 is already panning out. Just 24 hours after we posted our first Weird Band of the Week, tUnE-yArDs, they turned up on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Nice one, Jimmy!

WordPress doesn’t seem to like Kimmel embed codes, so you’ll have to head over to his website to watch our personal fave, “You Yes You,” or the “hit,” “Bizness,” which was the one that aired in full on ABC last night. Either way, it’s pretty great to see Merrill and the boys weirdin’ it up on national TV.

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Okay, so I know I made a big production on New Year’s Day about how we were gonna start having Weird Wednesdays as the day to unveil our Weird Band of the Week—and by the time 99% of you see this, it won’t be Wednesday anymore. Bear with us, okay? We’re still getting used to this whole operating on a regular schedule thing.

So anyway, our first weird band of 2012 is actually more of a solo project. Her name is Merrill Garbus and she operates under the name Tune-Yards…or, as she prefers to type it out, like a 14-year-old in an AOL chat room, tUnE-yArDs. Which right away should tell you that we’re dealing someone a little off-center here.

Fortunately, Merrill’s music is much less annoying than her use of capital letters. She recorded her first album, Bird-Brains (okay, fine, BiRd-BrAiNs) at home on a voice recorder, multi-tracking her vocals along with some very lo-fi percussion and the occasional guitar, bass, ukulele and hard-to-identify racket. Her music is at once abstract and somehow very pop, with lots of pretty layered vocals and the occasional soul shout—seriously, this woman can belt like Nina Simone, with a force that kind of catches you off-guard when it’s rising up out of all this primitive, home-tape murk. It doesn’t seem like that voice can possibly be coming out of this funny-looking, slightly androgynous hippie chick—but there it is, and she totally owns it. Merrill Garbus is fierce.

What’s even more amazing is that, thanks to getting signed to this uber-hip indie label 4AD Records and getting written up all the blogs that are way cooler than, say, us (i.e. Pitchfork, Drowned in Sound, Coke Machine Glow), Merrill Garbus and tUnE-yArDs have become sort of indie famous. The video for her song “Bizness,” off her second and far more polished album, Whokill (okay, fine, w h o k i l l), has racked up over 1.8 2.3 million views on YouTube.  For something as peculiar as tUnE-yArDs to be seen and heard by that many people…well, it kind of renews our faith in the power of weirdness.

I was really hoping we could embed the video for “Real Live Flesh” off tUnE-yArDs’ first album, because it’s by far the weirdest thing Merrill Garbus has ever done—a sort of art-school send-up of video vixen come-hitherness with lots of face paint and awkward editing and even more awkward dancing all set to a song that’s like an R&B slow jam getting shaken around inside an empty coffee can. But embedding seems to have been disabled on that video, so we’ll have to settle for the video for “Bizness,” which is actually okay because if we can help get it to 2 million views, we’ll have done our part. [Update: Mission accomplished!] Also, if you haven’t already, you should go check out our first-ever Weirdify playlist, because the tUnE-yArDs track “You Yes You” is the first song in the mix and it will make you feel grateful to have been blessed with the power of hearing. No seriously, it’s that good.


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