A wide-eyed set of dead eyes peered over the sold out crowd at Union Transfer on June 16.
The eyes were a prop for the set, which was decorated by alien-like creatures, drapery and bright colors. The set was for tUnE-yArDs, the psychedelic, indie rock project fronted by New England native Merrill Garbus whose new album, “Nikki Nak” was just released in May.
“We weren’t sure how this album would do,” Garbus told the crowd. “We thought maybe it was a little too weird.”
Garbus is referring to the new sound the group’s latest takes on – tUnE-yArDs’ first two albums, “BiRd-BrAiNs” and “w h o k I l l” were doused in careful ukulele fingerpicking, loops and harmonies taken from African cultures, where Garbus has studied music extensively. Though the group’s sound is familiar in her third album, it strays. It’s louder. Punchier. Garbus is taking those African influences and modernizes them as much as possible.
Garbus and her group, consisting of a percussionist, bassist and two vocalists/backup dancers, went through a wide repertoire of tUnE-yArDs’ classics by sampling at least one song from each album. Garbus delicately pressed loop pedals, loudly banged her drums and strummed her uke.
The group put on a lively show with not only their stage performance, but their interaction with the audience.
“Philadelphia dances more than any other city,” Garbus told the crowd with a smile.
Her small observation sent the audience screaming and prompted them to shake their hips and head around to the quirky tunes. During the set, Garbus played her biggest hits including “Gangsta,” “Bizness” and her most recent, “Water Fountain” leaving the audience wondering what her encore would be, if there was one at all.
Garbus and her group made an exit after “Find a New Way,” the first track off of “Nikki Nak.” The audience roared for more, and when Garbus came back out, she gently picked up her uke and began to pluck.
It was the first few notes of her softer tune, “Fiya” which wrapped up the Sunday night concert like a lullaby.
Time of Dark
Real Live Flesh
Stop That Man
Find a New Way