Merill Garbus, member of the excellent Sister Suvi (who’ve now either disbanded or simply gone on temporary hiatus) performed as her oddly-spelled solo project tUnE-YaRdS last night at Union Hall. Enthusiastic hooters and a few hilariously swaying hippies welcomed her to the low, comfortably livingroomesque space below Brooklyn’s favorite Bocce Ball bar. More than just a girl and her sweet ukulele ditties, Garbus brings a downright amazing vocal prowess, but also distinctive bits of quirk that elevate her above other singer/songwriters – she creates mountains of sound and her own percussive accompaniment with on-the-spot-recorded loops. She was also joined on this particular evening by a bass player and beer bottle tapper, filling the space with as much energy and intriguing sound as any full band could hope for.
Garbus has garnered a good amount of press as of late, and rightly so. Having recently signed to 4AD, she’ll also be touring with a certain critically-buzzed act that you may have heard of, Dirty Projectors. A highlight of the night was the infectiously swayable “Fiya,” on which she leaps from insecure little girl to feminine powerhouse, blasting a wonderful pop vocal melody over looped vocal backing and drum clacks. The light innocence of the ukulele brings a sweetness to her loud, strong wail, two seemingly mismatched strengths that in fact blend quite soothingly. Crowd favorite “Hatari” constructed a cascading flurry of hooting vocal parts, wonderfully strange and unique, before a break that had Garbus shouting from the rooftops, much to the audience’s delight. tUnE-YaRdS is so dang likeable not only because she’s doing things you haven’t heard before, but because even stripped down she’d be an engaging songwriter with a voice that will sink into your brain. Plus, she’s a sweetheart.