The tickets for tUnE-yArDs’ short-notice Brooklyn show were snapped up in less than two hours as soon as the news broke on Monday. And of course, the surprise ticket drop on Tuesday afternoon was sold out in half the time; with very good reason. For fans who have witnessed their badassery in much bigger spaces, like Prospect Park in 2015 (the last time they were in NY), the chance to catch them in a super-small venue like Baby’s All Right was too sweet to resist. The fact that tickets were so sought-after was exciting – not only because this band freaking deserves it, but because it’s satisfying to know how many others are obsessed with them. Being fond of something wildly unique is a unifying thing. The urge to stand in the cold rain outside the venue and shout random tUnE-yArDs lyrics was tempting, and would have surely resulted in call-and-response participation from every fan in the vicinity.
“My name is Miss Eaves and I am your new best friend!” said the opener and fierce Brooklyn-based MC as she hopped onto the stage in a kitty-cat bodysuit and crinkle-cut french fry earrings; unabashed, to say the least, about getting acquainted with her new pals. “So, this first song is about something I love… and that’s masturbating. How many people in here like to masturbate?” she polled with a giggle. “So, I’m gonna do my song…about touching my bits,” Miss Eaves announced, before sliding into the dirty and liberated verses of “Hump Day.” The beats beneath it all were built by her strong producer, KEISHH, who joined her onstage to lay them down with a contagious smile. With tracks addressing relevant, modern-day horrors like trolls, users, catcallers, and fuckboys, Miss Eaves got the crowd squealing, dancing, and thrusting middle fingers in the air (aka, the “Fuccboi Salute”).
The Brooklyn crowd was revved up by the time 10pm came around, but Merrill Garbus entered quietly, with a serene expression, stretching down to touch her toes before she got down to bizness. Once satisfied, she kicked off her shoes and began setting up, tapping neon-green socks all over the assorted pedals in front of her. For those who’ve seen tUnE-yArDs on bigger stages with a full ensemble and dancers, seeing them in a 3-person rock band configuration is really a treat – especially when they’re practically within arm’s reach, as they were in the confines of Baby’s. On top of that, the lucky fans who had packed the room got to hear a good dose of new songs from their unreleased LP, including the severely catchy “Home,” followed by “Honesty” and album single “Look at Your Hands,” making for a lively and dance-mandatory start. “We’re just gonna slam you with some new shit tonight…that ok?” Merrill asked, getting big cheers back. “We’re here to iron out all the kinks before the record release, so thank you for being here,” she said, teasing their forthcoming LP, I can feel you creep into my private life, due out on January 19th next year. It was tangibly a special night for the band, and the combination of new tunes, smoke machines, and bright strobes that filled the tiny space made it feel like we’d landed on another planet with them.
As her longtime partner-in-crime Nate Brenner made magic on the bass, Merrill kept the audience guessing and watching her every action intently. It’s not something you want to miss a moment of; the masterful way she layers dissonant noises and weaves bits of chaos into something mellifluous is one-of-a-kind, and seems second-nature; like a bird transforming sticks and string into an inhabitable nest. Between her real-time drum loops, dulcet ukulele breaks, untamed chants, and of course, the arresting, delicate, and wide-ranging vocals that have earned her so many admirers, Merrill was in her element, and everything was locking into place beautifully. They kept their promise of new music and introduced us to “Coast to Coast,” “Colonizer,” and “ABC 123” from the new record – the last of which, to its great credit, began prompting a shout-along from the fast-learning crowd, even though it was fresh to many.
In spite of their wild momentum and chit-chat-adverse nature, tUnE-yArDs suddenly paused between songs to ask a timely question. “Election results in yet?” Merrill inquired, and some well-informed fans up front gave her the scoop. “First transgender legislator in Virginia? She beat the guy who proposed the bathroom bill?!” Merrill repeated in awe as she learned of Danica Roem’s victory as the first openly transgender official elected to a U.S. state’s legislature. “Well…that is some good news!” she said with joy. “This is a really auspicious and great night to be here with you all.” Then, like so much of the country did that night, tUnE-yArDs sunk into a satisfying celebration, bringing an incredible run of the much-loved “Water Fountain,” “Powa,” and “Bizness” right in a row, before they closed out with “Heart Attack,” the first song on the new record. Of course, the hard-dancing fans were not yet ready to bid them farewell, and requested an encore with a loud outpouring of love. Their efforts were rewarded, and tUnE-yArDs returned to play “Gangsta” – fans singing all the woo-sirens with passion – and new album track, “Hammer,” which they ate up just as hungrily. Even minutes after the show, it seemed sort of unfathomable that tUnE-yArDs had just performed in such an intimate setting at this point in their career – and if we had to guess, it’ll be a rare occurrence as they continue to entice ears near and far.
Photos: Shayne Hanley
Article: Olivia Isenhart