Concert Review – St. Vincent & tUnE-yArDs 4.23.2012


It’s funny how some concerts come around at the exact right time in one’s life. I am first and foremost a metalhead, this is no secret. However, in recent years I have become more and more jaded to the genre and most metal shows just don’t do it more me anymore. I guess I just have to be in the right frame of mind to find myself in a sea of aggro-dudes running into one another because a different aggro dude on stage told them to.

In an attempt to get my heavy metal fire back I have begun checking out some other alternatives. This brought me to my evening of experimental indie with St. Vincent and tUnE-yArDs at the Fox Theater in Oakland.

In the words of the Monty Python fellows, “Now for something completely different…”

I arrived at the Fox just before the night’s opening band, Kapowski, took the stage. These Oakland natives brought a fairly straight forward brand of indie rock. This was at first anyway. As their short set went on their songs took on more intricate structures, featured extended jam sessions and moments highlighting their under-utilized horn section. The band seemed aware that they were there to fill time before the headliners took the stage, but they won over the people who decided to show up early. I’d say they are worth a listen.

Following a brief intermission, the lights dimmed and Merrill Garbus, aka tUnE-yArDs, took the stage alone. She began her set my belting various noises into the microphone and looping these noises over one another to create a rather lush bed of music for her to sing over. After the introduction she provided, her band that consisted of two guys on saxaphone and a bass player, joined her and they broke into the fan-favorite “Gangsta.”

Her on-stage song construction was not something I was aware of prior to this concert. I had no idea that Garbus would play part of a beat, then loop it as she played another part. She then moves on to her voice which she would then also loop to provide her a choir of herself. It’s all very confusing to put into words, but it’s truly inspiring and amazing.

Much of the crowd was there to see tUnE-yArDs and knew every song frist the first part of the beat she laid down. A girl in front of me began screaming out “YES! OH MY GOD SHE’S PLAYING ‘POWA!'” after the first strike of Garbus’s tom drum was serving as her bass drum. Similar moments occurred during the construction of “You Yes You,” and “Killa.”

As someone who went in knowing nothing about her performance style, I can say that I have never seen anything like tUnE-yArDs. It really one of the best performances I have ever seen. It has been almost a week since this show as I write this and I’m still playing her set over in my head dumbfounded. I was only familiar with her song “Bizness” prior to the show. “Bizness” is an incredibly catchy song that touches on my love of funk and 70’s music, but with no context of how her music is layered, it is just a good song. After seeing Garbus and her band recreate the song in such a unique way, it is now a fantastic song.

If you have the chance, see tUnE-yArDs live.

Another intermission followed, then came the moment I had been waiting for. The unmistakable intro to “Marrow” from St. Vincent’s second album, Actor, began to fill the room. Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent,  began singing as the lights slowly came up and once the chorus hit the crowd was joined in a feeling of universal joy. Her set then continued with many tracks from her latest effort Strange Mercy.”Cheerleader,” “Surgeon,” and “Cruel” were standouts from this newer batch of songs. It was also nice to hear a few tracks from her previous releases like “Actor Out of Work,” “Save Me from What I Want,” “Black Rainbow” and the aforementioned “Marrow.”

The St. Vincent live line-up was a bit surprising. While promoting Actor, Clark went on the road with a more traditional band with a bassist, drummer, keyboard player, and a less traditional violin/clarinet player. This time she was the only mobile person on stage since her backing band consisted of a drummer and two people on keyboards/synthesizers. Older tracks that highlighted strings or woodwinds sounded a little strange with keys instead, but it was by no means bad. In fact, “Marrow” the wind section was replaced by Clark playing the part on guitar which gave it a heavier edge.

The central set list ended on a much different note than I was expecting. The band first covered a track by the short-lived post-punk band The Pop Group called “She’s Beyond Good and Evil.” This song had a lot of attitude in comparison to the usual St. Vincent antics. The final song of the evening, before the encore, was of the Record Store Day exclusive “Krokodil.” This was the well place highlight of the night. Clark set her guitar down and stood at the end of the stage swinging her microphone. She looked very punk in this moment. Her synth player/back up vocalist grabbed the guitar and the band exploding into the song as Clark dove into the audience. What then followed was the most successful crowd surfing I had ever seen.  The only time she stopped coming through the soundsystem was when her mic cut out as she flipped upside-down over the crowd. Even then, I could hear her from where I was standing. She never stopped singing. The audience went insane during this song. It really was the perfect way to end the set. The crowd was buzzing after the band left and the show could have ended there, but this is a concert and there is always an encore. The band took the stage and played one last new song, “Northern Lights,” to wrap up the night.

Garbus informed us during the tUnE-yArDs set that St. Vincent had an amazing performance planned for us, which all bands performing before other bands say, but she was absolutely correct. Even after the unbelievable set tUnE-yArDs brought, the St. Vincent performance shadowed it. The energy was right, the lights looked great and the set list flowed perfectly. Annie Clark would later post this the day after the show. It leads me to believe that maybe her crowd surfing was the cause. I respect her for giving her all to the performance, this including giving up her ability to walk for a little while.

Initially, I thought the tUnE-yArDs/St. Vincent package was an odd one, but it was perfect. When I originally arrived home from the concert my girlfriend asked me how the show was I said, “It was kind of amazing.” I realize now that I was underselling it.

Complete set list
Marrow
Cheerleader
Chloe in the Afternoon
Actor Out of Work
Save Me From What I Want
Dilettante 
Black Rainbow
Surgeon 
Cruel
Year of the Tiger
She Is Beyond Good and Evil (The Pop Group cover)
Krokodil
Norther Lights

_Daniel Cordova

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  1. […] the stage at the Fox Theater last night in Oakland, California, click on the Related Articles to read concert review from Daniel Cordova of KSSUnews and exclusive concert photographs from Darryl Kirchner of […]

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