Yesterday (7/14) the line to get into tUnE-yArDs with Austra spanned across several blocks; going so far down I couldn’t even see the end of it. I’m not sure if everyone got in, but the capacity at Hudson River Park Pier 54 was quite large, and I am pretty sure it was as full as possible. This free show turned out to be one of the best of the summer so far, so braving the madness was worth it.
Austra was first – the Toronto-based band consisting of former members of Galaxy and Spiral Beach. Lead vocalist and chief songwriter Katie Stelmanis immediately seized the crowd with her mystique and beckoning arm movements, inviting everyone to join her and feel their songs. The music was electronic fused with Stelmanis’ powerful and far-reaching vocals, along with extra harmonies from two other singers positioned on each side of the stage. It was danceable, but the slowly undulating industrial kind of dance.
With the wind blowing from off the water, Stelmanis looked almost otherworldly, beckoning the musical gods with her vocal incantations. With songs like “Beat and the Pulse” and “Lose It,” Austra manages to evoke an intoxicating ambiance that somehow seemed to blend gothic and bohemian qualities to create something intriguing and beguiling.
Speaking of intriguing, the amazingly talented tUnE-yArDs was up next. Typing the name correctly is somewhat bothersome, but their performance was anything but. tUnE-yArDs started as the solo bedroom project of Merrill Garbus, but since she has added bassist Nate Brenner, and for this show she had two talented saxophonists noodling up and down their instruments at all the right moments, and also sometimes beating on pots and pans (literally). A few times Brenner joined in with drum beats, and had an interesting rig with coke and beer bottles to tap.
Garbus came on stage alone at first, and began looping her voice and hitting the floor tom and snare in front of her. Her melody-making helpers soon joined her, and the magic ensued. Garbus is extremely adept at using her voice as a percussive instrument as well as creating beautifully smooth and catchy melody lines that seamlessly fit together in a puzzle of loops with added amplified ukulele. How she creates all of this build-up live is a bit mind blowing, and the fact that her and her band can stop on a dime and dive back into the musical puzzle a beat later is pure brilliance.
She was also extremely thankful to the crowd, the crew, and the full moon against the city skyline. “I wish I could share this experience with all of you,” she said gazing up at the sky behind the massive crowd. Her powerful stage presence and original rhythmic compositions was enough for most of us. tUnE-yArDs played most of the songs off the new album w h o k i l l plus a few off the debut Bird-Brains. The most impressive and memorable song for me was “Real Live Flesh,” off the latter. The way she modulates her voice while utilizing musical methods from African tribal dance, hip hop, and everything inbetween really demonstrates Garbus’ artistic abilities. One of the most enthusiastic moments was during “Do You Want To Live?” Garbus screamed these words and pointed her drumsticks at the crowd to almost deafening affirmation. Pretty much everything she did the crowd went nuts over, and the louder she screamed her fierce roar the louder the crowd reciprocated. She must have felt the love and admiration, because she looked like she couldn’t be happier onstage.
tUnE-yArDs had time for a one song encore, and so they closed the set with “Killa.” What made the end of the night even more magical was the spectacular fireworks that began at the very end of the song across the river. Fireworks on the pier after tUnE-yArDs with a glorious moon – the musical gods were definitely smiling down on NYC last night.
tUnE-yArDs is playing Pitchfork Festival in Chicago next, and then heading to Europe. If you haven’t already, check out their new album and stayed tuned in on Facebook. Austra is heading west as well, but coming back to NYC to play Bowery Ballroom with Cold Cave on August 6th. You can follow them on Facebook for more updates.