Concert Review: 4AD Presents- tUnE-yArDs and U.S. Girls at the Neptune Theater

Listen to U.S. Girls’ In a Poem Unlimited hereU.S. Girls are
the project of Meg Remy, someone who has been working under the U.S. Girls name
for nearly a decade but this latest album of hers, In a Poem Unlimited, finally caught and held my attention. Much of
U.S. Girls’ previous work has been difficult to digest, lo-fi, experimental
art-pop that honestly just never struck a chord with me. Poem is a completely different story; it’s catchy, jazzy, wickedly
smart, and packed with sticky hook after sticky hook which ultimately pushed me
over the edge and was the whole reason I purchased tickets to this show. With a
massive band, (eight people total including Meg, two guitars, drums,
percussion, backup singer, keys, and saxophone) the sound live is absolutely colossal.
Whenever I attend a concert that has a good vocalist as the center point of
their sound, I tame my expectations, vocals tend to get drowned out by the
instruments and often times the vocal quality doesn’t stack up to the studio
version. However, Meg does an exceptional job of making herself heard and her
smoky and breathy vocals sound excellent live. The rest of the band are all
excellent at their respective instruments, the lead guitarists buzzing, and squelching
tone was is an excellent complement to Meg’s vocals and totally overwhelming and
tangible on tracks like “Incidental Boogie.” Much of the set featured the
wailing and sassy saxophone of Dennis Passley – a sound so beautiful that he
could have come up after the show and stabbed me and I would have thanked him. The
drumming and percussion is tight, the backup vocals are just as smoky and breathy
as Meg’s and the base is dense and heavy. U.S. Girls, while embarking on the
new sound that they have curated on this latest album still hold much of their
lo-fi, experimental weirdness close to their heart. “Time,” the closing track
of their set embarked on a very post-modern tangent, like someone stuck a
classical modern composer in a room with a jazz band and a rock band, told them
to make music and they couldn’t come out until they did. Time felt like thick
elastic putty and that stretched and contracted as they played before finally
Meg and company walked off stage one at a time. My only disappointment was that
the set wasn’t longer.Listen to tUnE-yArDs’ Nikki Nack here After a short wait
and some set up, the lights in the venue went dark and tUnE-yArDs came on
stage. While on paper they are a duo consisting of Merrill Garbus and Nate
Brenner, drummer Hamir Atwal is playing with them on tour. While I have enjoyed
much of the groups work in the past, this latest album failed to really strike
a chord with me. It’s a much more stripped back, blander, and mainstream
sounding album that diverges from their off-kilter art/indie pop with an
incredible amount catchiness that ran throughout much of their last two albums.
Additionally, I was worried about their ability to perform the songs live,
granted that much of their sound relies on heavy and dense layering of vocals
and samples. I came in with tamed expectations that it might not sound as good
as I was hoping. Boy oh boy was I wrong, tUnE-yArDs honestly sounds so much
better live than they do on their studio albums. They have so much energy, the
layering is so much more intense, and the sound is incredibly full and
enveloping. I was totally blown away at Garbus’ ability to create these
beautiful harmonies with herself and then construct these complex, driving
beats over which they would play their instruments. Brenner’s base was amazing
to hear live, it was buzzing and heavy and perfectly contrasted the light
timbre of Garbus’ vocals and ukulele. While Atwal isn’t officially a part of tUnE-yArDs,
he was a pleasure to watch work, his technical ability was unreal and his
chemistry with Garbus and Brenner was excellent, making each track feel so
organic and clean. Paired with the excellently timed light performance that
seems like it could have been pulled out of an EDM show, it made the impact of
each note and beat resonate throughout my whole body. Even the tracks that I
was lukewarm on from their last album cycle sounded so much better live, and
tracks from what I think is their best album, Nikki Nack, were amazing. On top of the even more dense and full
sound that the band creates during their live shows, they did some incredible
blending of songs, my favorite was on “Water Fountain” when they played through
most of the track, switch into “Real Thing” for a verse and switch back to
“Water Fountain.” I was totally blown away with tUnE-yArDs’ sound live and I
highly recommend that anyone who is even lukewarm on their work see them live if
the opportunity presents itself, it is well worth the money. -Alex