Lollapalooza 2012: tUnE-yArDs / by Doyle Armbrust

Ecstasy. No, not referring to the re-uptake-inhibited ragers over at Perry's stage. "Ecstasy" is the single best descriptor of a tUnE-yArDs set and the maniacal-yet-ordered ululations, yips, and caterwauls of aural mastermind Merrill Garbus. Scrambling to reset the stage after the festival-emptying lighting storm, Garbus rallied with tour mates Nate Brenner (bass), Matt Nelson (sax) and Noah Bernstein (sax) to dispatch one of the most creative displays of the festival, accomplishing this in a mere 30 minutes for the abbreviated set.

"Party Can," a Japanese-release-only bonus track on 2011's w h o k i l l, has recently been the concert inceptor of choice for tUnE-yArDs. Garbus emitted a cyclic yodel, which once looped, hung as a backdrop for stacked melodic material and breathy sax fills from Nelson and Bernstein. The singer's facility with her looping pedal was most striking, though, for "You Yes You," in which within one circuit, Garbus had conjured a complex percussion hook on the snare snare and low tom flanking her. The face-paint-streaked vocalist cascaded down her metrically offset, Afro-Caribbean-esque lyric, "Now that everything is going to be okay / Now that everything is going to be all right," with an effortlessness that masks the inherent rhythmic difficulty of the line.

If all of this is sounding a little art-house, it (thankfully) is, but the throbbing funk of "Gangsta" found no arms skeptically crossed in the muddied crowd. Raising drum sticks in an "X" before unfurling her arms east and west, she anchored the irrepressible grove with mad downward attacks on the skins. Impressive rhythmic unisons from the sax duo interjected Garbus's cheeky lyrics before the tune receded symmetrically back to the rim shots from whence it came. If the afternoon deluge was the Universe's reprimand for Lolla's innumerable New Mexico-print muscle shirts, concert closer "Bizness" was tUnE-yArDs' rejoinder. Part layered scream, part geometric construction and part ukulele down-stroke powerhouse, this eruptive chorus brought one of Lolla's most memorable sets to a close all too soon.

- Doyle Armbrust

published in the Time Out Chicago Audio File Blog on August 5th, 2012