From beat one, the face painted, feather clad Merrill Garbus co-opted the crowd at New York’s Pier 54 last night, forming a sort of afro-urban tribe moving wildly below a fat full moon. Sticking largely to tracks from her March release w h o k i l l, Garbus made it apparent that she’s far more than one of the many tourists dabbling in the current afro-pop trend.
If you only read her bio, it’d be easy to mistake tUnE-yArDs for another quick burning Pitchfork buzz band blending layered sounds over poly-rhythms and dance beats. But it’s Garbus’ chameleon of a voice takes it to another level. Whether yowling like a tribal call from an Amadou and Mariam track, crooning ala Nina Simone or spitting rhyms, there’s no question who is the boss (of everyone) when she’s at the mic.
With the crowd in perpetual motion, Garbus also showed her growing experience level, holding just enough head room to kick the energy up one more level. This was no where more apparent than during her current single “Bizness.” After layering in her improvised marimba (made of beer bottles) and vocal riffage, the audience bought in for the four-minute ride, savoring the anticipation provided by the culminating drop out. Even the crusty “seen it all, heard it all” NYC sound guy jumped. It was that good.