On Monday, tUnE-yArDs played at Boot and Saddle, a cozy Western-themed bar in South Philly, with opening act Miss Eaves on a tour preceding the release of their forthcoming album, I can feel you creep into my private life. Billed as a tour in which the group would be “returning to their club roots for a series of seven intimate shows,” loyal fans of tUnE-yArDs on the East and West coasts had sold out almost all of these concerts, Philadelphia included.
The night opened with Miss Eaves (Shanthony Exum), a female rapper whose lyrics and personality are intertwined with progressive feminism. In both her songs and her commentary, Miss Eaves criticized cat-callers and encouraged body positivity and self-confidence. By the end of her set, the room was overflowing with fans of Miss Eaves and tUnE-yArDs alike, and her words of strength fostered an audience community that would last for the rest of the night.
After a brief intermission, Merrill Garbus made her way through the crowd and onto the stage with a drummer and bassist, Nate Brenner. tUnE-yArDs opened the set with their fresh and newly released single, “Look at Your Hands,” which will be the seventh track on their upcoming album. In an exciting, but not completely surprising turn of events after this song, Merrill gave an introduction and spoke the words the crowd was waiting to hear: “We are going to try out some new stuff on you tonight.”
The two songs that followed had been previously unheard by anyone in the audience, but the intimacy of the location, and the growing power of the night brought the room together in sways for what might be some of tUnE-yArDs’ best material yet. While the sound of tUnE-yArDs has always been focused on Merrill’s unique voice, these newer songs incorporated more instruments and synthesizers that added a modernity to the usually more stripped-back rhythms.
In reward for the crowd’s overt appreciation of the music, despite being unfamiliar with it, Merrill dove right into the hit song “Water Fountain,” from 2014 album Nikki Nack. The song’s chorus unleashed a dancing energy that tore through the room, with the softer verses attempting to briefly re-establish order, only for Merrill to rip it to shreds again in vibrant chaos with her screaming vocals.
Merrill built and sustained this same energy in waves throughout the rest of the show. Using pedals and a keyboard to loop different sounds of her voice together, she performed “Bizness,” “Gangsta,” and “Powa,” some of the best tracks from 2011 album w h o k i l l. With each, the crowd rocked and swayed and shook their heads in response to Merrill’s voice and expression, dancing with strangers in the way that only a sold-out show in the back room of a bar allows.
Though the full set was only a little over an hour long, it was packed with the colorful and howling spirit that is characteristic of tUnE-yArDs. The Kenyan-rooted rhythms and percussion combined with Merrill’s always-emotional vocals could bring even those who hate dancing to their feet. This show, and the others with it in this brief tour, was meant to remind people what it is to get to a place where you feel music so deeply in your soul that you can’t help but move with it, and to tell you that tUnE-yArDs are here to help get you there.
Be sure to pre-order their newest album I can feel you creep into my private life.
Photo by Eliot Lee Hazel.