I’d traded my Animal Collective tickets for tickets to see Beirut at Music Hall of Williamsburg, and as far as live performances with tribal beats and yelps go, I really think I got the better deal out of it. I’m sure people compared Merrill Garbus of Tune Yards (who opened) to Bjork, and I suppose you silly indie listeners will greet any white musician with face paint and African beats with some amount of caution, and you might be right to, but Merrill isn’t fooling around, kids. From the moment she started layering tracks for the intro song, “Hatari”, she was 100% awesome. She was Rokia Traore meets Panda Bear. I’d seen her play with Sister Suvi once, and I didn’t think much of it then. But her own set last night was better than any Animal Collective show I’ve been to, and if Avey Tare and gang deployed a band of percussionists, they just might sound as convincing live.
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Even though Tune Yards was the unannounced first opening act, Merill already had the room’s full attention when she was just playing solo and layering all sorts of cool singing and drum parts. But then she brought her band out. They all had that dash of black paint running from one cheek to the other over their nose bridge, and they were all dressed in black. As they awaited their part, which only came in the last segment of that particular song, they looked like a loyal army ready to give their lives in the service of the performance required of them–this gave me goosebumps.
I filmed only the last song, which doesn’t even do justice to the full set she played, mainly because she didn’t do any of the lecture-y “There’s a pool in your chest, tap it” speeches in the other songs, which is to say, the rest of the set wasn’t quite as hippie-ish, and it was a better showcase for her brilliant singing. But it was a fun performance nonetheless, good enough to give you a taste of her might. Before they started that song, the band got off the stage and dispersed into the audience area. As Merill started striking her drum sticks, there were other strikes of drum sticks that could be heard from different directions, and soon enough, different band members were rolling their sticks along the rails that stand on the two sides of the room as they approached the stage–I love deconstructed crap like this, can’t you tell?! (I talked about it at least once recently, and we totally deconstructed a Loom song for Secret Garden).
I usually don’t bother writing about stuff I didn’t like, but that Inlets set was terribly boring. And I only bring that up to say in their defense that the songs weren’t bad at all. The shortcoming seemed to be more in the “curation” and arrangement of the songs–the set as a whole was lacking definition and movement–and for once I couldn’t blame the crowd for yapping away. Incidentally, the last time I got so bored at a show was when Stars Like Fleas opened for Beirut at this very venue. But still, the Inlets songs were good.
Music Hall of Williamsburg,
Brooklyn, New York
Feb 4, 2009