Tune-Yards finds a new way at Union Transfer

Tune-Yards PHOTO: Holly Andres
Tune-Yards PHOTO: Holly Andres
Posted: June 18, 2014

Merrill Garbus, who records and performs under the moniker Tune-Yards (sometimes tUne-YaRds, but cOmE oN), opens her new album Nikki Nack with "Find a New Way," which sums up the task she set for herself on this, her third album. Considering that the songs on her previous album, w h o k i l l, were built largely around vocal loops, drums, and distorted ukulele, she could have continued in the same vein without much fear of anyone else treading on her turf. But she pushed forward all the same.

That push continued with her show at Union Transfer Sunday night. The band behind Garbus has increased by only one member since her last go-round, but the scope of her music has expanded dramatically. In 2011, she fit snugly into Johnny Brenda's; this time, the much larger Union Transfer seemed almost too small. Following the mantra of "Find a New Way" ("Change-o, strange-o, 'nother rearrange-o,"), the songs shifted and mutated as she stretched them well past their recorded lengths.

While bassist Nate Brenner remains from Tune-Yards' previous incarnations, Garbus' two-person horn section has been replaced by a percussionist and two background singers. Since she was more likely during her hour-long set to pick up a pair of drumsticks than a ukulele, the focus was largely rhythmic, befitting the time she and her bandmates spent studying Haitian drumming and dance between albums. But her voice and melodies are so soulful and strong - it's not hard (and in fact quite pleasant) to imagine Beyoncé turning "Stop That Man" into a monster hit - that even what amounted to a handful of extended drum solos never felt distended.

"Find a New Way" closed Garbus' set, an indication she's still on the hunt for new means of self-expression. To judge from the constantly moving crowd, she'll have a lot of company on her journey.

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