Review and photos – The tUnE-yArDs at Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, April 30 2011
– review by Jacqueline Ronson/photos by Ashley Tanasiychuk
Buke and Gass, the tUnE-yArDs‘ opener on Saturday night, looked timid and unassuming when they first graced the stage. Bandmates Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez had sweet boy/girl-next-door looks and sat in chairs as if playing an intimate concert in someone’s living room.
All expectations, however, were blown out the window as soon as the music started. The musicians playfully engaged with cross-rhythms, percussive vocal lines and whimsical melodies. Just as the audience would get comfortable with a musical idea, the sound would shift in dynamic and proceed in a dramatic new direction. Dyer’s vocals were soothing and forceful in equal measure. Their inventive sound captured the attention of the growing crowd and held them to the last note.
The Brooklyn-based band is named for their self-styled instruments. Dyer’s “Buke” is a modified baritone ukulele, while Sanchez’s “Gass” is a hybrid between a guitar and a bass (the “Gass” in “Buke and Gass” rhymes with “bass”). Both also played percussion with their feet. Without any looping or pre-recorded tracks, the pair achieved a sound much fuller than what one could imagine from a two-person band.
Still it was a shame that, with a seated band and a standing audience, it was hard for anyone to see much at all past the wall of obnoxiously tall men in the first two rows. How Buke and Gass produce their unique sound is as interesting as the music itself, so it frustrated some audience members to miss out on that part of the experience. One man, well over six feet tall and only about five rows in, jumped up and down like a pogo stick in an attempt to keep one eye on the action.
Anxious and sweaty fans exploded in cheers when the curtains of the Biltmore stage were peeled back to reveal tUnE-yArDs frontwoman Merrill Garbus. With her pink tulle sleeves and face paint, she looked like a fierce winged warrior. The opening vocals to “Hatari” sounded like a war cry. Garbus had arrived, and clearly she meant “Bizness”.
Garbus caught the indie music world’s attention in 2009 when she released the debut tUnE-yArDs record, BiRd-BrAiNs, on recycled cassette tapes. She took to the studio for her 2011 follow up, w h o k i l l, although the album retains the raw energy and non-conformist aesthetic of the original. The music combines the voice of R ‘n’ B queen with tribal rhythms and eclectic sound. But it is the live performance that has earned the adoration and respect of a growing legion of diehard tUnE-yArDs fans.
The audience watched in awe as Garbus assembled complex loops of percussion and sound on the spot. On top of these she layered ukulele and more vocals. WIth her on stage was Nate Brenner on bass and a saxophone section. Each element combined in the kind of organized chaos that takes you on a journey to uncharted territory.
The tUnE-yArDs performance got right in the audience’s face and under their skin. Some knew what they were in for, others didn’t quite know what hit them. Garbus maintained her warrior woman facade until the end of the show, when she broke out in smiles and waves. She had won over yet another audience. She knew they’d come back for more.
More Buke And Gass photos:
More tUnE-yArDs photos:
tUnE-yArDs and Buke and Gass tour dates:
03 – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge #
04 – Denver, CO – Hi Dive #
06 – Lawrence, KS – Jackpot Saloon #
07 – Omaha, NE – Slowdown #
08 – Minneapolis, MN – Cedar Cultural Center #
10 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall #
11 – Pontiac, MI – The Pike Room at Crofoot Ballroom #
12 – Toronto, ON Canada – The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern #
13 – Montreal, QC Canada – La Sala Rossa #
16 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall #
17 – Milford, CT – Daniel Street #
19 – Washington, DC – The Red Palace #
20 – Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brenda’s #
21 – Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg #