Some gigs meet expectations. Some gigs don’t. And some gigs, etched long in the memory, very much exceed expectations and if you, like me, were at The Sage on Sunday 8 March you’ll have witnessed something very special indeed.
I think we all had an inkling that tUnE-yArDs performing live had the potential to be a memorable experience and that’s exactly what they turned out to be.
Colourfully attired and energetic, Merrill Arbus and regular collaborator Nate Brenner, expanded to full five piece band, stormed the stage with ‘Sink-O’. There was no messing around here, no warming up, no slow climb to hit their stride, just an instant peak-hitting trademark infectious rhythm and thundering drum-filled opener.
The audience, who had already been warmed up by a short hypnotic set by Nathalie Stern who, using keyboard and loop pedal, created dark atmospheres while looking for all the world like she was making the whole thing up as she went along, were instantly impressed by tUnE-yArDs’ uplifting tribal sound. The impressive opener was swiftly joined by further tracks from last year’s acclaimed Nikki Nack album, ‘Real Thing’, ‘Time of Dark’ and the staccato ‘Hey Life’ which reminds us that, in amongst the addictive rhythms, tUnE-yArDs’ lyrics are pretty special too (who else could come up with ‘I woke up feeling albatrossy’?)
Never frightened to dip boldly into their back catalogue there are also abundant tracks from the equally impressive WHOKILL with the wonderfully inventive ‘Gangsta’, where drumbeats ring out like gunshots, staking its claim to be song of the night in a very crowded field. Two further tunes from WHOKILL, the unique and frantic ‘Es-so’, still lodged firmly in my head days later, blends effortlessly into the mellow, hypnotic ‘Powa’. For both tracks Merrill’s usual looping technique is supplemented by a chiming ukulele, making a sound like you’ve never heard a ukulele make before.
After ‘Stop That Man’ Merrill, obviously taken aback by the level of sheer enthusiasm and mutual admiration that fills Hall 2, has a little chat about their previous visit to The Sage, before launching into ‘Wait For a Minute’ and the one that many in the crowd have been waiting for, ‘Water Fountain’, the feel-good tune of 2014 (you know what you can do with Pharrell’s ‘Happy’).
Before rolling out the appropriately titled ‘Bizness’ a tune that, until now you might have sworn was too complex to be performed live, Merrill explains that as the tour is approaching its conclusion there may be some opportunities to strike appealing deals on T-shirts at the merchandise stall afterwards.
For an encore the band recall the days when they were literally a one woman band, with the lilting beauty of ‘Fiya’ from 2009’s BiRd-BrAiNs, much to the delight of many who had been calling out for it for most of the night.
It might sound like a cliché, but it was an absolute pleasure and privilege to be present at a gig as good as this one.
Reviewer: Neil Pace
Photographer: David Wala