The first time I saw Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs perform was at the Chelsea Pier River Rock concert you see in the video above. I had listened to her record w h o k i l l, and I had come to know her DIY aesthetic, but I was not the least bit prepared for what I witnessed at her show. For starters, I was probably one of the only people in the press pit who wasn’t wearing face paint!
Merrill has a power that you don’t often see on the stage these days: totally primal, yet her songs and sounds are refined like a science. She admits to relying on an excellent internal rhythm, but that similar to the looping pedals she uses, she’s imperfect and prone to mistakes.
I wanted to see how she did it. Like any good performer, she made it seem effortless in the San Francisco studio Sound Arts where we shot a short interview and performance. With nothing but her and her tools, me and my camera, she put on yet another totally flawless show. She could even explain what she was doing in real time without breaking the song. Total fluidity.
On paper, there’s really nothing to it. Yet, her songs would be beyond even the most experienced performer to multi-task on their own, let alone compose. Merrill uses two relatively primitive stomp boxes to capture her loops, but with them manages to “produce” entire songs in a live context with a subtle agility that would likely astound the likes of Quincy Jones.
With her pedals she records loops of live drums, vocals, and ukulele, all while performing side by side with the sounds she captures — building as she goes. She builds harmonies, rhythm sections, verses, choruses, bridges, makes siren sounds and pretty much entire songs without ever missing a beat.
If you ever have the chance to see tUnE-yArDs perform in person, I promise you will not be disappointed. And in fact, to kick off her fall tour, we’re going to give you just that chance — a spot on the guest list to one of her U.S. shows! At 12 p.m. ET Tuesday September 27th, 2011 we will pick at random one commenter to win. (We apologize in advance that this sweepstakes is only open to U.S. folks over 18. Void where prohibited. Download a PDF of the full Rules and Regulations.)