ThousandsEdit this event
These days it's a pretty rare occurrence for Aberdeen to play host to an artist riding as high a wave of critical acclaim as Merill Garbus' tUnE-yArDs is at the moment (although the combined bill of Julian Lynch, Ducktails, Big Troubles and local boys Copy Haho just ten days previous was another fine gig organised by venerable local promoters Interesting Music Promotions). The sense of anticipation for tUnE-yArDs was palpable and drew a more than respectable crowd, which was fairly dense by the time touring support, Seattle duo Thousands, ambled on to the Tunnels' minuscule stage. In the wake of the vigorous, but thoroughly melodic, acoustic strumming of local support Foxhunting, their more rustically inclined brand of Simon & Garkfunkel redolent folk-pop and their charming between-song banter (genuine rather than patronising attempts at North East dialect) set the audience/performer love-in tone for the evening ahead.
In stark contrast to the main act Thousands are so conventional and inoffensive that it is striking in itself, but this is in no way a slight. Given the intimate surroundings and pleasant summer's night that those in attendance left outside the knotty tangles of gossamer delicate finger-picking and mellifluous vocal harmonies were a soothing elixir. It might sound reductive, but Thousands aren't unlike a more stripped back version of their friends and labelmates, Fleet Foxes, particularly with alpine lyrics like "?...take tracing steps through wooded hills?". The aforementioned S&G influence was most apparent on 'Sun Cuz', it's references to ?running from the law? recalling 'Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.', which is hardly a bad thing and but the chorus refrain ?No One Knows? rmakes it memorable in its own right. The urgent twang and the gently ascending chorus of ?Ooohs? on 'To Save the Truth' made for a thrilling increase in tempo, but unfortunately the increased volume onstage was matched those less interested members of the audience at the bar until put right by some welcome shushing. Without this audience self-governance it would have been pretty tricky to hear the fragile ending of 'Red Seagulls', spare notes framing another breathy unison of ?oohs?. Thankfully it was afforded the hushed atmosphere it deserved.
If Thousands channel the more serene side of nature then Merrill Garbus does a fine job channelling (hu)man's primitive tribal energy. With her pink facepaint and shoulder ruffles the very meeting point of glam and primitivism she looked like the original king of the wild frontier Adam Ant himself. Yet she shares none of his affected theatricality; tUnE-yArDs are all about sheer abandon. This was immediately evident when Garbus takes to the stage alone and loops together the layers of yodelling into an infectiously delirious backing choir for Bird-Brains' 'Hatari', which elicits a fervent response of wails from the crowd. By the tail end of the second song she was bolstered by bass and a two person brass section, with Thousands bawling call and response vocals from the middle of the crowd. The danger of any artist relying on loop pedals to build up their sound is that the focus of the audiences attention is going be looking at the floor around their feet all night, but far from detract from the songs the sight of Garbus, microphone in one hand and a drumstick in the other hitting floor toms, snare rims and the microphone stands, constructing her own beats with a mischievous grin on her face was an absolute joy. When she gets in her zone she's an unrestrained performer, staring crazily into the audience on 'You Yes You' hollering "?What's all that about?!?", by the end of the song having a good portion of the crowd pogoing and the rest of it grinning goofily.
Most important, of course, is the music itself, which might even be better than on record. The best material from W H O K I L L such as the punchy opener 'My Country' and the indelible hooks of 'Es-so' are all the more irresistible when played with such enthusiasm. The best responses, however, were reserved for album highlights 'Gangsta' and 'Bizness', wherein the backing musicians, particularly the brass section, proved that this isn't a one woman show. Nonetheless, given the sense of unrestrained ecstasy that pervaded the set and tUnE-yArDs reputation as a roughshod lo-fi concern, not to mention the potential for loop pedals to repeat mistakes, it's all the more impressive that there wasn't a beat out of time or note out of place (to this writer's ears at least). No poor musicianship masquerading as subversiveness here, but rather a consummate live performance in every sense. The inclusion of the more stripped back 'Fiya' was a welcome respite from the relentless energy and tUnE-yArDs certainly didn't outstay their welcome in terms of set-length otherwise it might have gotten a little tiring or else I might have just run out superlatives.
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