Review: Tune-yards @ The Bell House

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After my initial encounter with Tuneyards, expectations were high.  Any time an opening band who you have never heard of shows up a headliner, its always a nice surprise.  I think all of New York felt the same way, since the band sold out The Bell House in advance.  This was their largest headlining show to date, I think everyone who saw them open for the Dirty Projectors was also at this show.   Well, at least every person I know, and a few hundred others.

So on a Friday night with a heavy snow prediction, we trekked out to the Gowanus, ready to hear some worldly jams.  I have always enjoyed the Bell House.  Even when sold out, its not overly crowded, its always easy to get to the bar, I’ve never seen an overly douchey crowd in attendance, the sound is consistently good.  This may be because its in the middle of nowhere…but I’m ok with that.  Sometimes you have to think outside the box.  That box being easily accessible by public transit locations.  They do have minimal lighting though, which explains the blurriness of my photos.

Lets get right down to it, I’m getting over a stomach flu, and there is no time to waste.  This is a solid band, who in the future will do even greater things, but they do have a few obstacles to overcome. Tuneyards is primarily Merril Garbus , who plays ukulele, drums, and sings, accompanied by a bassist…and that’s it.  Its very stripped down, but sounds quite full due to the use of loops, and her fantastically huge voice.  Surprisingly though, I think she was suffering from some stage fright!  When it comes down to it, she is the show.  500 people are standing there, waiting for you to do something completely awesome, and you have to deliver.  She even said “I’m a little nervous right now, I’ve never had this many people know they’re here to see me!”  You could just feel the nervous energy.  Her voice shook at times, she seemed a little self conscious.  You wanted to just shake her and be like “You’re fucking awesome, stop thinking so much, just go for it!”

Even through the nerves…there were some shining moments.  She without a doubt has that special quality in a front person where you re like “yep, I can see why you’re going to be successful”  She has two tones of voice, there is one quiet and one loud.  The quiet…well, its quiet.  That was mostly where you could hear any apprehension, or maybe she justwasn ‘t warmed up, who knows.  But as soon as she opened up, it jumped about 50 decibels, and she just belted out the jams.  It was fantastic. It was like watching Aretha Franklin or something.  It makes you wonder how a person could produce so much sound.

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It was interesting watching her craft loops during live performance.  This basically means, she records a few seconds of sound, plays it over and over while adding more sound to it, eventually creating the sound of a full band.  Her percussion ideas were pretty interesting.  Itwasn’t always just Boom-Chick stuff, there were some ghost notes, some interesting fills, I was enjoying it.

I do hope she can accept the fact that shes amazing, and worthy of a crowd’s attention, I think that’s what it comes down to.  While the last performance was a straight up 10, i’d give this one an 8.  While still good, they are going to need to turn it up for next time.  And there will be a next time!

Notice the mic drilled into the book case...
Notice the mic drilled into the book case...

Moving on, here’s a quick note.  At a studio I was in recently, there is this little card on top of a speaker that says “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have”  And I really think those are words to live by when entering into any production endeavor.  DanielLanois frequently mentions that no matter the scenario, you have to work with your situation.  He records Bono live in the control room, no headphones with an SM58.  The Traveling Wilburys vocals were recorded in a pool house (bob dylan ‘s pool house, but that’s beside the point)  with 1 microphone in the center of the room.   This weekend I had the chance to adapt to a situation, and the results were overwhelmingly positive.  The band was recording some vocals, at my wonderful chateau in beautifully historic downtown Jersey City.  About 10 minutes before the session, I was setting up.   Mic, MicPre , Converter, Headphones……..mic stand?  no.   There was no mic stand in attendance.  OK, there had to be a way around this.  Broomstick?  no.  Tie a rope to the ceiling and hang it down?  nah.  Stereo Mic Bar?  That had to work.  That’s basically a 6″ flat bar with a mic mount on it.  So, I removed one end of it, leaving a threaded hole, found a piece of flat metal in a tool box, and drilled that shit into my bookshelf.  The results?  Perfect.  Well, i mean, its not like it had an impact on the sound.  But it certainly did the job, it added a bit of an improvisational style to the session, and that’s always a plus.