The Liquid Rooms is jam-packed this evening, long since sold out for TuNe-YaRdS’ hotly anticipated (and only) Scottish date on an expansive, continent-hopping Spring tour.
It was eight years ago when I last saw the band perform live, then as a two-piece, at the old Captain’s Rest in Glasgow: there, songwriter Merrill Garbus and longtime partner Nate Brenner embodied the post-folkier aspects of TuNe-YaRdS’ output, with instruments looped atop one another in a patchwork fashion and a rough haze around the edges of everything.
Tonight’s set marks a real shift into heavier sonic territory, not only through the addition of very competent live drummer Hamir Atwal, but via the harder dynamic edge of the electronic beats, razor-sharp synths and pounding drum machines – barely distinguishable from house and techno at points.
Garbus has always been an intuitively rhythmic songwriter; her dizzying, melismatic vocal loops foregrounding the voice as rhythm instrument every bit as much as a melodic one.
But, despite the heightened production values of their performance, the more interesting aspects of tonight’s set remain Garbus’ vocal loop breakdowns of old, such as on Time of Dark, a more organic affair, in which the listener feels their way around the slight misalignment of sounds, the organic click of foot on pedal, and creaks of the throat like cracks in a winding road.
While Atwal’s addition certainly ticks the boxes in terms of creating a fuller live ‘experience’, his playing is merely session-drummer tight, lacking the spontaneity or unpredictable qualities of Garbus’ musicality.
This is perhaps being over-critical: more of TuNe-YaRdS’ set sounds fantastic than not, with fan favourite Gangsta bringing the room up into a solid bounce. And Garbus herself is a mesmerising presence, dressed in a black jumpsuit – part funeral, part maximum security prison – with a loop of rope around her neck provocatively recalling a noose.
Tracks from latest LP, I can feel you creep into my private life, stand out; in particular Heart Attack, with its repeated, paradoxically euphoric refrain of ‘I’m only human’.
Garbus is an immensely talented human for sure, and at times her bandmates’ contributions complement her arrangements ideally. It’s just a bit of a shame that her very unique humanity is also overwhelmed on occasion by mechanical infringements.