It was a fiery night in more ways than one this last Wednesday in Los Angeles. From the new Moroccan Lounge, found among the warehouses of downtown LA’s Arts District, Tune-Yards’s Merrill Garbus enthralled and immersed an excited audience in an earthly world with powerful lyrics, looping vocals and a sense that somehow, we were actually in the world’s coolest yoga class – we had just all had forgotten our mats.

As the set began, the base bellowed out, reverberating in the space like a scared gong, so heavy and intense the hairs on my arms shook. We were bathed in sound, anointing the collective as we entered the mystical, real and playful world of Tune-Yards. Merrill’s cropped hair complete with long bushy bangs covering her eyes, worked together to paint the picture of some kind of mysterious leader. As the lights reflected upon her and around it, it was as if she, of Tune-Yards was an intense prophet here to show us the righteous way. But, then a sly smile crept in, a laugh, and suddenly it is revealed that this is a woman who is incredibly happy to be doing the work she doing. There was a real love for the audience and the audience loved her, swaying and dancing and talking to her, her talking back to them. It was a warm world we had all stepped into.

Photos by David Fisch

But it’s not even that Tune-Yards actually is creating a world. The music of Tune-Yards is a remix of all sorts of musical cultures in the world – Western Pop, African, Jazz, Techno, Island, rap, spoken word but all bleeding together with biting political poetry. At one point, Merrill wailed out a sound that sounded like the start of the Jewish New Year, before bouncing around to deep rhythms intersecting with each other. Through it all, there was such an intense but playful joy in her performance. She rolled through some of her most popular tracks like “Water Fountains” and “Gangsta” with exuberance. They were like remixes of themselves, a call and response.

They also broke out a ton of new stuff which will be on the new record I can feel you creep into my private life, out on January 19th. It was all really interesting and exciting. I’d almost say it was like “world music” meets techno, deep rhythms and beats all layering on top of each other creating a texture that I want to describe as red earth. There’s something about it that felt primal and real and of dirt and I mean that in the best way. Like when you dip your hands into soil and the residue is left in your finger nails. It’s not always comfortable but in the end it was kinda nice. She cried out that “I have white girl skin and white girl hair” and that she uses a comb made especially for that hair. At the start of the show a lyric off the new album literally said, “California is burning” at which point she looked up and crossed her hands over her heart and the audience cheered.

I’ve always loved the way that Tune-Yards juxtaposes incredibly joyful sounds and happy rhythms with powerful political and environmental poetry. But seeing this in person, as people bounced around with her, had conversations with her and reacted to these songs, it struck me as being even more powerful. The words aren’t hollow and neither are the rhythms. They work together and that’s a part of the joy.

Didn’t get a chance to see Tune-Yards this time around? Don’t worry! They’ll be back in February for a two-night engagement at El Rey, so you can bounce around with the best of ’em in an actual ballroom. In the meantime, check out their latest single/video “ABC 123” off the new record below.

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