Thursday, 12 July 2012

tUnE-yArDs, Oran Mor

I've always ignored the band 'tUnE-yArDs', mainly because of that annoying way of writing their name. In case that wasn't enough her album is called Whokill, but written as "w h o k i l l". However any band that gets described as "lo-fi, experimental, wonky pop" has surely got to be worth seeing live and that was why I ended up in Oran Mor on Wednesday night, overcoming my typeface prejudices.
Walking to Oran Mor, at the top of Byres Road in Glasgow's west end I had a very west end walk as I passed a member of Hue and Cry out walking his dog and a member of Wet Wet Wet going out for dinner. Finally when I got to the venue I was pleased to see that another Scottish musician, but one with an ear for music, was there to take it in, Alasdair Roberts. I've said it before, but its still true, Glasgow is just a village really.
The support act were 'Muscles of Joy', which was a pleasant surprise as I'd fancied hearing them ever since I saw them described as "avant-garde" and doing "tonal experiments". You can see a pattern here, if you want me to buy a ticket just put "no-one likes us" or "experimental" on the publicity. Five members of the all female seven-piece band took the stage and quietly started rattling their instruments and pinging their triangle. By this stage the venue was already very busy, but they had clearly not come to see or hear this and the back half of the room seemed obstinately oblivious to the fact that there were musicians on stage as they continued to chat their way all over the music. This happens more and more often at gigs nowadays, and at the risk of sounding a bit fuddy-duddy, is it not just downright rude? The musicians who had seemed quite self-conscious as they came on stage, seemed to carry on that way as they chanted back and forth to each other, at no point managing to wrestle the audience's attention away from their conversation, which was a shame as it sounded as if a more quiet, reflective atmosphere would have helped the music. "Don't buy that album" was the summary that my wife gave it, and I suspect that she is right. Muscles of Joy seem to be a work in progress but worth looking out for.

Partick Thistle coloured lighting for Tune-yards
Tune-yards (can I just call them that instead of tUnE-yArDs?) have been touring their album for months now and are a much more slick affair. They are lead by Merrill Garbus who took centre stage alone to an attentive and expectant crowd. Her performance was confident and smooth throughout and although a lot of musicians use foot pedals and computer jiggery-pokery to loop their sound I've not seen anyone doing it as naturally and smoothly as she did. She was soon joined onstage by bass player Nate Brenner and alto and tenor sax players. Despite wonky haircuts and kooky face paints they carried off the floaty, happy, afro-beat sound with each song centred around looped drum beats from Merrill when she wasn't on her electric ukulele. She got a big cheer for re-calling her previous Glasgow gig at the Captain's Rest, but otherwise kept smiling and battering through the songs. Lively and sunny though she was, at the end of the day it was nice but ultimately unfulfilling stuff. The whole look and sound was a pleasant mish-mash of Vampire Weekend's bass lines, Adam Ant's face paint and crossed drumsticks, Bats for Lashes vocal and visual styles and The Wiggles cheery smiley-ness. Biggest cheers from the crowd came for "Bizness" and "Gangsta" and she clearly has a very loyal fan base who held onto her every breath and guffawed at her facial tics, but the music didn't move me. She is clearly great at looping the drumbeats and they are the centre of every song, but now that she tours as a 4-piece band I just felt that a drummer would add a bit more force and drive to the songs, which tended to burble along. The afro-beat sound is appealing, but that looped percussion does not a Tony Allen make. As Samuel Johnson said to Boswell on coming to the Giant's Causeway "Worth seeing, yes, but not worth coming to see."

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