Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The Fox Theater, Oakland
Better than: Tim Burton meets Bobby McFerrin meets Slash meets strobe-induced seizure.
Whereas Monday night's live score by tUnE-yArDs at the Castro Theatre was somewhat restrained, front woman Merrill Garbus let loose for her hometown at last night's Fox Theater show in Oakland, where she opened for St. Vincent.
Like a Bobby McFerrin for the Pitchfork generation, Garbus began with a vocal-looping session that sounded as epic and rooted in African music as that oft-referenced scene in The Lion King when Rafiki presents Simba to the pride. And as it was her first true homecoming show since the band's great ascent of 2011, the sentiment wasn't far off either. "You are a very moving sight to see," she said, announcing that the last time they played in Oakland was at hole-in-the-wall Mama Buzz Cafe, a startling comparison as nearly 3,000 fans cheered for the local-turned-national star.
The rest of their set was business as usual, which for tUnE-yArDs meant making the room sound as if everyone's car alarm is going off at the same time. In a good way. The signature siren-scream of the ever-intrepid Garbus, the cacophonous meanderings of saxophonists Matt Nelson and Noah Bernstein, and bassist Nate Brenner's imaginative and agile bass lines all had their moment in the spotlight. Garbus' ukulele/drum/vocal juggling, as masterful as it always is, is just one of the key ingredients that make tUnE-yArDs performances consistently impressive and entertaining.
Garbus invited a few "special guests" onstage for the closer: four schoolchildren from the new "My Country" video. The kids danced so hard for the entirety of the song, they managed to make Garbus -- an incredibly compelling and daring performer -- seem meek.
I happen to be in the minority when it comes to indie music's love affair with St. Vincent. I may even have used the word "unlistenable" in the past. But because I've heard endless stories about her live performance acumen, I wanted to give her a shot. And I must admit, I'm officially a convert after last night.
I dubbed Monday night's tUnE-yArDs Castro Theatre collaborator Eva Mendoza "the Slash (to Garbus's Axl Rose) of silent films." But after watching Annie Clark wail on the guitar, the title might have to be reappointed. I've got to say: she's pretty damn good at guitar, for a girl. I apologize if that was politically incorrect. I meant that she's damn pretty good at guitar, for a lady.
In all seriousness, her instrumental skill, vocal muscle, and stage theatrics, not to mention the moments when she just plain freaks out during her solos, put many "musicians" and "entertainers" to shame.
Backed by a drummer and two keyboardists/sampling wizards, Clark played all the favorites from 2011's Strange Mercy, which made it onto countless albums-of-the-year lists. In the midst of a high-drama, strobe-heavy light show that felt at times like one of those clinical trials that tries to induce headaches, Clark opened with "Marrow" and "Cheerleader," and peaked with "Dilettante" and "Chloe in the Afternoon."