Last Tuesday Electric Bare had the privilege of covering an intimate show featuring one of our favorite artists of the present day. Sonos Studio and Pandora teamed up once again to promote and incredibly talented act that has garnered quite a bit of attention after the release of their latest record Nikki Nack. How much attention? Well, over four million plays over the last few months on Pandora alone. As Merrill herself identified in the middle of their set, having four million people listen to your music in today’s over-saturated iteration of the Industry is a magnificent (in the traditional of-great-magnitude way) and truly humbling thing. And she certainly was humbled. In fact, what was most striking to me was how soft-spoken and almost withdrawn she sounded. The fearless titan brandishing one of the most versatile and powerful voices of our time seemed almost shy, at one point joking in a near inaudible tone that the band is usually unable to see their audience’s faces so well. But then the group would go into the next song and all traces of hesitation and shyness completely vanish and in their stead a commanding and almost intimidating presence.
They played mostly songs from Nikki Nack, understandably supporting their latest release with a more limited time than their normal performances. Their energy was spectacular. Screaming, choreographed motions, incredible harmonies, and playful, sensational costumes all lent to to the show’s identity as more of a performance art piece than a concert. The fact that it took place in an art gallery didn’t hurt either.
Their set was replete with polyrhythms both looped and live, the use of synths and samples manipulated by the three multi-instrumentalists of the group, two sirens masquerading as backup singers, and of course the vocal genius of Merrill herself. The transitions between songs could not have been better and there were few pauses in the set. Abrupt stops became planned beginnings and twice chaos became interlude, the second being a free jam that Merrill utilized to take a break and casually adjust a small bit of her floor tom before jumping immediately back in and starting the next piece.
She, and the rest of the tUnE-yArDs were incredibly gracious and “real” without sacrificing their roles as performers and entertainers. They were more like those friends who are brilliantly talented but shirk off compliments as if laminated in modesty.