Sunday, April 22, 2012

Date Night

Garbus, garbled
As you'll recall, my Pazz 'n' Jop poll vote this year was a tie between Tune-Yards, (who won first place) and St. Vincent (who finished in the money). Then I found out they were touring together. As it turns out, the tour consisted of only four dates, one of which was here in Tucson last Tuesday night, and the last of which is next Tuesday in Oakland. 

The wife and I had a fine meal al fresco at the Hotel Congress patio just before the show; the quinoa veggie burgers, dubbed "Queer Steer," were sublime, as were the Sapphire martinis.  Enjoying the warm evening, we marveled at how much less crappy downtown Tucson has become in the 15 years since we spent our honeymoon night at that same hotel. The gradual gentrification and revitalization has brought some life into the decayed urban core, and we were glad to be a part of it. 

We were even happier to be a part of the crowd witnessing these two amazingly talented women sharing the same stage (though they did not play together). They attracted a nice mix of old and young, gay and straight, and er, white and white. And contrary to their critic's pet scores, Annie Clark of St. Vincent was the headliner, while Merrill Garbus and her band were the support act. I had the pleasure of chatting with Garbus after the show, and let her know that I was honored to have had the privilege of voting for her in the poll. Her response: "Thank you so much for that! Winning that thing totally made my year!"

The Tune-Yards set, at ten songs, was shorter than I would have preferred, but she hit the highlights from her award-winning album with the help of a fine back-up band, consisting of two saxes and a bass player. Merrill herself drew on her background as a solo performer by adding loops and effects to her voice, drums, keyboard and electric ukelele. She opened with an utterly unique scat vocal, mixing in her own backup harmonies in realtime. Then the full band kicked into "Es-So" and then "Gangsta," with the alto and tenor saxmen blending in New York skronk with Kinshasa Afropop. 

We were sorry that our kids, who are big fans, were unable to be there with us. But along with getting her autograph for them on the tour poster, we were able to use the miracle of smartphone technology to make a video of their favorite song, "Bizness," and send it directly to their babysitter. Take that, Twentieth Century!

Our headliner showed an affecting mix of vulnerability and rockstar confidence, a reflection of the ambiguities in her music. What was unambiguously amazing was her supple fretboard work, frequently augmented by a guitar synthesizer. Her background band was also a threesome; in this case a drummer and two keyboard players, one of whom handled the bass tones. 

Clark's playing, singing and songwriting chops reaffirmed the basis for my tie vote. Seeing either one of these women would have been a concert highlight of any year. Together, they made perfect sense, both of them grappling with themes including power imbalances and the allure of violence on both a personal and societal level. Intelligent musicianship of this caliber deserves much wider recognition, and if either band books a stage near you, make sure you get there - and send me a clip.

PS: Smartphone technology not being as smart as one might hope, the photo above of me with Merrill Garbus, which looked fine on the phone, refuses to upload properly. But I included it anyway, since it's a better representation of her fragmented sound than a clean photo would be.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your "Date Night" review. Thanks for sharing! In the garbled photo - do I perhaps recognize your nose? ;^)

  2. Actually, several of my noses...