Merrill Garbus started tUnE-yArDs as an experiment in looping her voice and ukulele on a home recorder. Now tUnE-yArDs is a full fledged band, featuring bassist Nate Brenner. Merrill and Nate recently brought the sounds of tUnE-yArDs’ celebrated new album, w h o k i l l, to the XPN2 studios. Now you can stream the session whenever you like! With the help of a pair of saxophone players (cultivated from the Oakland jazz scene), tUnE-yArDs’ blending of folk, pop and R&B is as vibrant as ever. In the session, we’ll hear the band play a selection of songs from w h o k i l l, including XPN2 favorite “Gangsta.” XPN2’s Eric Schuman talks to Merrill about her global influences and the various roles she’s taken on throughout her career. Stream our session with tUnE-yArDs anytime with the XPN Media Player. Be sure to tune in for a brand new Studio Session every Friday at 3pm on XPN2!
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 7
Punk trio Screaming Females is celebrating its emerging adulthood by reissuing its first two albums in a very grown-up vinyl format. The band has come a long way since its self-released debut, Baby Teeth, was written and recorded in drummer (and then-high schooler) Michael Abbate’s attic six years ago. Like many angsty New Jersey teens, the members of Screaming Females started performing in their friends’ basements; unlike most New Jersey teens, however, the band gradually went from touring Jersey to touring nationally with bigger punk acts such as Against Me! and Ted Leo. Though much of the band’s popularity is credited to the members’ dedication to the group, just as much success can be credited to their simple formula in creating skin-and-bone punk-rock songs. Disregarding the extraneous bells and whistles of highly-produced music, Screaming Females offers a more no-nonsense sound, resting largely on heavy yet simple chord progressions and vocalist Marissa Paternoster’s unforgiving tone when belting out the group’s tunes. Screaming Females performs with Underground Railroad To Candyland and Dry Feet at 6:30 p.m. at The Barbary; tickets to the all-ages show are $10. —Marielle Mondon
Also Playing: The Deli’s 3rd Anniversary show with Dangerous Ponies + Orbit To Leslie, The Homophones at Kung Fu Necktie (8 p.m., 21+, $10); Kuf Knotz + Alien Architect, The Authentic at Milkboy Philly (9:30 p.m., 21+, $8–$10); The Besnard Lakes + Malajube at Johnny Brenda’s (9 p.m., 21+, $10–$12); Robert Randolph and the Family Band with Tauk at the TLA (7 p.m., $40.00/includes service charge).
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 8 Uh Huh Her’s show at the TLA marks the low-fi electro-pop duo’s first stop of the Keep A Breast Tour. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Uh Huh Her is undergoing a month-long, 21-stop tour that will raise money for the Keep A Breast Foundation, a non-profit project targeted toward educating young people about breast cancer. In addition to breast cancer awareness, though, the band has its sophomore album, Nocturnes, to promote. The album, which drops on Tuesday, is the band’s follow-up to 2008’s Common Reaction and the first new release after being dropped from its label. (The album will be released via the band’s own label, Plaid Records.) Despite these changes, the album’s lead single, “Another Case,” still rests on Uh Huh Her’s signature airy, moaned vocals and heavy use of synthesizer to create a subtle, seductive sound. Uh Huh Her performs with Fences at 8 p.m. at TLA; tickets to the all-ages show are $25. —Marielle Mondon
Also Playing: James Blake + Chairlift at The Trocadero (9 p.m., all ages, $21–$23); Skrillex + 12th Planet, Foreign Beggars, Nadastrom at Electric Factory (7:30 p.m, all ages, SOLD OUT); The Lemonheads + The Shining Twins, New York Rivals at North Star Bar (9 p.m., 21+, $20–$25)
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 9
Merrill Garbus’s musical project tUne-YarDs seems to exist purely to contradict: contradict expectations, contradict convention and, at times, to contradict itself. Garbus’s voice, which is capable of swinging between a soothing, cooing purr and a growling, leaping roar, is at once ferociously vulnerable, fiercely disarming. The 32-year-old New-England native first gained attention for her 2009 self-produced debut album “BiRd-BrAiNs,” which she recorded on a hand-held digital recorder and mixed using the software Audacity. It was rereleased later that year by 4AD records, who signed Garbus, identifying in her lo-fi, freak-folk first release creative genius. On Garbus’ second album (out this year on 4AD), “w h o k i l l,” she applies her superhuman sound masterfully, and her songs have a certain urgency, a raw, emotional energy to them. Hear them for yourself when she performs with Pat Jordache and Les Blondettes this weekend. tUne-YarDs performs with Pat Jordache and Les Blondettes at 8 p.m. at Union Transfer; tickets to the all-ages show are $15. —Naomi Shavin
Also Playing: Ladytron + VHS Or Beta at TLA (7 p.m., all ages, $19)
Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs premiered a brand-new, eight-minute track at the POP Montreal festival last week, reports Stereogum. Garbus is known for her rhythmic looping and ukulele skills, and this new track is no exception: She kicks off the performance with solo vocals that are ultimately looped and layered with the rest of the band’s singing. Percussion enters, with a brass accompaniment and sporadic uke playing that further builds the piece. A solo climax around the 4:50 mark adds dynamic and appeal to the lengthy song. tUnE-yArDs performs with Pat Jordache and Les Blondettes at 8 p.m. Sunday, October 9th, at Union Transfer; tickets to the all-ages show are $15. —Caitlyn Grabenstein
Union Transfer has just announced that tUnE-YarDs will play a show on October 9th, with support from her past collaborator Pat Jordache. The announcement comes just three days after t-Y’s performance at Philly’s 2nd Street Festival. Tickets go on sale this Friday, August 5th at 12 p.m.; they will cost $15 and will be made available here.
The lineup has been announced for this year’s 2nd Street Festival, which will take place on Sunday, July 31st, in Northern Liberties. The free outdoor festival is presented in partnership with the Philadelphia Folksong Society, and will take place from noon-10 p.m. across four stages (one at the Piazza, and three where 2nd Street intersects with Poplar, George, and Fairmount). The lineup for the third annual event is bigger than ever, featuring headliners tUnE-YarDs, Black Landlord, and Delicate Steve. Plenty of local favorites, including Toy Soldiers, The Great Unknown, and Cheers Elephant, will be making appearances as well. The festival will be hosted by Gene Shay, host of XPN’s The Folk Show. For more information, visit the festival website here.
2nd Street Festival lineup:
The Great Unknown
North Lawrence Midnight Singers
Nicole Zell and Em Sea Water
Philly School of Rock
Hosted by Gene Shay!
In a time when acts such as Odd Future and Salem garner more online attention due to controversy than they do their music, the Internet’s seal of approval might as well come with an expiration date. So, at first glance, Merrill Garbus’ tUnE-yArDs could come across as just another blog-buzz-band-of-the-week destined to disappoint. Since releasing Bird-Brains back in 2009, Garbus has been characterized as the ukulele-toting artsy-fartsy lady that, like, yells a bunch and does a lot of weird stuff with loops. (For those keeping track, Bird-Brains made Pitchfork’s 2009 Top 50 list; her second album, w h o k i l l, debuted last month to near unanimous acclaim.) For some, that unfair description might be enough to write Garbus’ music off as a stale photocopy of recent trends, her striking outfits and face paint as pretentious posturing, or her openness about politics and equality as insufferable grandstanding. Those who have listened to her records or seen her live, however, know differently: she’s the rare real deal in a sea of try-hards.
Garbus and her backing band came onto the stage at Johnny Brendas on Friday night like church mice. They fiddled with their instruments while the audience watched quietly and politely. Garbus, wearing a a pink-feathered outfit and with a green streak of paint over one eye, smiled at the crowd. Then she opened her mouth and obliterated the silence with a nonsensical a cappella chant. It flailed wildly, from a high pitch to a droning androgyny. The first response was actually intermittent laughter. But, in addition to some serious range, Garbus’ voice commands an undeniable power, which silenced the laughs pretty quickly. The nonsensical chant was shockingly loud, but Garbus was uncompromising. She pointed her drumsticks at the floor, then the balcony and repeated the chant. By the time she asked, “Do you want to live?,” she had full control over the audience in front of her—all before the first song had even officially started. Then she emphatically banged a pair of snare drums, slammed her ukulele, and the backing band kicked in.
Garbus reassured the audience with “You Yes You,” singing that “Everything is going to be OK.” But when the beat dropped and bass guitar led took the lead, insinuating that it was time to dance, the audience wasn’t so sure. One of the many things that makes tUnE-yArDs’ music so wonderful is that, despite the its overwhelming sense of brainy academia, the rhythms suggest dance and celebration. The crowd at Johnny Brenda’s didn’t exactly pick up on that hint; even during the most bottom-heavy songs, they mostly tapped their toes or shushed others. Still, they loved Garbus, regularly shouting “Merrill!” (which evoked a sheepish smile from the stage). The crowd’s energy might not have been of the kinetic variety, but it was still palpable, as was its reverence—both of which grew as the set went on.
“Gangsta” felt as fresh on stage as it did on record, shattering the notion that, in order to push musical boundaries, an artist must sacrifice enjoyablility. The saxophones jumbled together in a free-jazz noise jam, and Garbus chanted like an ambulance, but somehow held onto a melody and beat. She moved on to the lullaby “Powa” (from w h o k i l l), and the crowd was lost in contentment. “Fiya” (from Bird-Brains) started the same the way: it rollicked and then banged. “Bizness,” the biggest hit off w h o k i l l, was also a crowd-pleaser—it, too, had the quintessential tUnE-yArDs stamp of mixing accessibility and creativity.
Garbus seems oblivious to the popularity of lo-fi and irony. In interviews, she has acknowledged that she’s never had much of a handle on trendy indie music. (She admits that she had a big Dave Matthews Band phase before turning to classic rock.) Prior to recording Bird-Brains, she spent some time in Africa, distancing herself even further from access to the “it” bands. The time in Africa also contributed to her unabashed sincerity for bringing about change. She stopped the show after “Bizness” (which was written at the time of the earthquake in Haiti) to announce that all the proceeds from an EP would go to the Haitian relief effort.
During “Real Live Flesh” (a hit from Bird-Brains), Garbus harmonized with her own looped voice, as she sang “I’m not your fantasy girl / I’m not your fantasy love.” “Es-So” (off w h o k i l l), brought out two new musicians: an acoustic guitar player and a man beating on what appeared to be a cookie tin. They closed with Bird-Brains‘ “Hatari” and its sitar-sounding ukulele part; the song ended with Garbus emitting a series of fog-horn blast bellows directed at various parts of the audience. During that moment, she was 100 percent power, her facial expression one of forceful exertion bordering on strain. Then she quickly faded back to her relaxed smile as she thanked the audience and departed. The encore, w h o k i l l‘s opener “My Country,” started as a mock of “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee” before falling into an electronic call and response. Garbus, playing a synth, requested the audience repeat a vocal riff for her. The characteristically accommodating crowd diligently obliged and then praised her as she left the stage. —Dave Simpson
FRIDAY, MAY 20
Merrill Garbus, who performs as tUnE-yArDs, sees things in a million shades of gray. Her lyrics and interviews are filled with more questions than answers. Is she borrowing—or stealing—her beats and yelps from African music? Should she sing about the political views that are inherently a part of her personality, or will she come across as preachy? Should she make her music more confrontational to avoid having it played in Urban Outfitters? And if her music is even more confrontational, will it alienate the listener? That kind of ambivalence could bog a musician down. But Garbus has an ability to ask questions powerfully. Layers of explosive percussion drive the music; her voice ranges unpredictably. The result is music that lies off the beaten path of current indie trends. tUnE-yArDs performs with Buke And Gass at 9 p.m. at Johnny Brenda’s; tickets to the 21+ show are SOLD OUT. —Dave Simpson
Also playing: Odd Future at First Unitarian Church (9 p.m., all ages, SOLD OUT); Weird Al Yankovic at Keswick Theatre (8 p.m., all ages, $29.50-$59.50); Dredg + The Dear Hunter, Balance And Composure, The Trophy Fire at The Trocadero (7 p.m., all ages, $16); Small Houses + Chris Kasper, Tinmouth, Brittany Ann at Danger Danger Gallery (9 p.m., all ages, $5-$10)
SATURDAY, MAY 21
As one of the leaders of the folk-baroque resurgence, Seattle’s Fleet Foxes bring a harmony-laden, rustic approach to pop. The songs sound like hymns to rural Americana—they’re both a tribute and a wishful hope for a return to simpler time. Unfortunately, singer Robin Pecknold’s lyrics sometimes veer off into hokey territory, especially when he rambles at length about the poetry of snowflakes and sun-drenched orchards. But Fleet Foxes are highly listenable: both their first album and their latest, Helplessness Blues (which came out earlier this month), offer a dreamy, inoffensive soundtrack for an afternoon spent picking apples and wearing plaid. Fleet Foxes perform with The Cave Singers at 9 p.m. at The Tower Theatre; tickets to the show are SOLD OUT. —Kiley Bense
Also playing: Converge + Drop Dead, Trap Them, Burning Love, Cop Problem at Broad Street Ministry (7 p.m., all ages, $15); Damon And Naomi + Amor de Dias at First Unitarian Church (7:30 p.m., all ages, $12); Delco Nightingale + Sean Kershaw And The New Jack Ramblers at The Fire (9 p.m., $9)
SUNDAY, MAY 22 The Punk Rock Flea Market (10 a.m.-5 p.m., $3, 461 N. 9th St.); Neon Trees + The Limousines, Eastern Conference Champions at Theatre Of Living Arts (8 p.m., $18); The Cars at Electric Factory (8 p.m., $60.45)
tUnE-yArDs’ new album, w h o k i l l, doesn’t come out on 4AD until April 19th; the band doesn’t come back through town until May 20th (for a stop at Johnny Brenda’s). But we’re officially excited for both the album and the show, thanks to this track (posted on Friday by Stereogum). Mid-May suddenly feels a lot further away than it did a few days ago.