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On a stage swathed in pink fabric and watched over by a swarm of blue-irised evil eyes, Tune Yards (ahem, tUnE-yArDs) with opener, Sylvan Esso, wowed Royale’s eager crowd. After watching both bands, it was clear that the headliner could easily hold the party on their own, but the more company, the better. The party was in fine form to celebrate music and WERS’s 65th birthday. The crowd that lined up outside and in were buzzing with anticipation. Phrases like “I haven’t seen them in year,” or “This show is gonna be SO great,” were frequently hard among the crowd. And those they certainly weren’t wrong.
Sylvan Esso kicked off the show without ceremony, sidling on stage and picking up with an entire set from their eponymous debut album. Notable among the set were two of their singles, “Coffee,” and “Play it Right.” The pair, vocalist Amelia Meath and sound wizard Nick Sanborn, looked as though they were just jamming their garage. Meath, with her hair down and in a tied-back t-shirt, traversed the stage in fluid, boy band-like dances. Her voice become a soft, yet powerful, mewl, that often hovered somewhere on the verge of rapping over Sanborn’s beats. Sylvan Esso got the audience dancing and excited—an impressive feat for a Monday night crowd—and are certainly a band to watch out for.
The excitement reached a pitch when tUnE-yArDs finally hit the stage. Currently, the band is on their tour for their most recent release, Nikki Nack. In 2011, everyone was talking about the tUnE-yArD album W H O K I L L, which Time listed as number 6 on their top 10 albums of the year. Their single, “Bizness,” was number 32 on Rolling Stone’s top 50 singles of that year. Now, with the follow up to W H O K I L L‘s success, tUnE-yArDs is selling out shows across the country on the Nikki Nack tour. Bandleader Merrill Garbus said that the gratitude was not lost on them. “We made a weird album that only a few people would like. But there’s more than a few of you!” she said to the cheering crowd.
tUnE-yArDs opened with a long, held ahhh that led into “Hey Life,” the sixth track off of Nikki Nack. Garbus led the band, wearing a geometric dress and a headpiece that, from the balcony, looked like a tri-cornered hat with eyes to match the stage decoration. A trio of percussionist/vocalist/dancers—Jo Lampert, Dani Markham, and Abigail Nessen-Bengson—made the beats and bobbed enthusiastically to them, while the bassist Nate Brenner observed it all, looking like Screech’s (much cooler) older brother. Fans who were anticipating tUnE-yArDs’ usual drum loop and layering method of performance were not disappointed. Garbus started most songs with a drum beat or clapping (which the audience joined in with every time,) before layering ukulele, additional drumming, and vocals. Garbus is known for layering genres as well, piecing together tribal-style drumming with barbershop three-part harmonies, and all the looping and layering allowed for her tightly-orchestrated songs to traverse between sweet, organized chaos and back again.
The band played their way through Nikki Nack and peppered the set list with old favorites, including ”Gangsta” off of W H O K I L L second. Garbus showed off the malleability of her voice with this song in particular—one minute, she sounded rough and gravelly, the next she hit the highest notes with airy grace. They played ”Sink-O,” which featured a three part vocal harmony reminiscent of Motown. tUnE-yArDs were clearly enjoying themselves. The band danced in medicine man circles, drummed on the pink fabric, and howled together like wolves at the beginning of “Read Live Flesh.” The crowd absolutely erupted when they played “Bizness,” and sang along with fervor to “Water Fountain,”their jubilant new single. The tUnE-yArDs show was a celebration of music at its most creative, proving to be an excellent way to mark a milestone for WERS.