tUnE-yArDs brings new album and new questions about privilege and power to Union Transfer

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tUnE-yArDs | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren for WXPN

tUnE-yArDs’ core, Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner, has stayed consistent since the band’s 2009 debut. For their current tour, which came to Union Transfer last Thursday, they’ve forgone the spectacle of the saxophone section, background vocalis and percussionists of previous tours. Adding Hamir Atwal on drums and keeping the band a trio-piece is no hinderance to the music, as Tune-Yards has perfected the ability to bring their full album sound to a live stage. “Make sure you watch her feet,” went a reminder from an audience member during the set break, calling attention to the fact the Garbus’ instruments of choice this tour were mainly a small drum pad, minimal ukulele, and a slew of effect and loop pedals that she seemed to have a virtuosic mastery of.

The stage setup for the night was minimal, making the lighting and pedal-dancing the main visual attractions. The set consisted of songs from tUnE-yArDs’ newest album, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, which seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way. Songs like “Colonizer,” hit you like a train and force you to consider the meanings in each line:

“I use my white woman’s voice to tell stories of travels with African men.
I comb my white woman’s hair with a comb made especially, generally for me.
I smell the blood in my voice.”

With a musical career based heavily on her connection to the music of African descendants, where does appreciation meet appropriation? Sonically, this new album is completely tUnE-yArDs. The source material has been absorbed and synthesized into something brand new that could only come from a white woman from CT interpreting her travels in a post-Get Out world.

tUnE-yArDs | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren for WXPN

“Look at Your Hands,” is a poppy, playful reminder to reflect on where you’ve been, and the privileges that have allowed you to get there. tUnE-yArDs has made the music of the African diaspora more popular then those individuals have had the chance to make it themselves and Garbus knows and struggles with why. These pockets of insight and introspection are skillfully sandwiched between her flawlessly executed, texture-building harmonizing via loop pedal, and improvisatory remixes of these vocals in the songs climax. Loop pedal + Whammy pedal = the best possible freak-out!

With a mix of songs from their current album and their previous, Nikki Nack and WHOKILL, the crowd favorites were, “Powa,” “My Country,” and “Gangsta.” The newer song like “ABC 123” may not be sing-a-longs yet, but I’m excited for a future where an arena full of tUnE-yArDs fans sing “I want so badly to be liked, I ask myself, ‘Why was I nice?’ I ask myself, ‘What should I do?’ But all I know is white centrality.”

Other notable songs include the single “Heart Attack” and “Coast to Coast,” where Garbus sings:

I was just so tired, too tired to say a thing
Kept my head down, eyes closed and let freedom ring
We let freedom ring
But whose freedom?

Check out photos from the show in the gallery down below, beginning with scenes from opener My Brightest Diamond’s set.

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