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tUnE-yArDs: Tiny Desk Concert

I've been entranced by tUnE-yArDs for a long time. Bandleader Merrill Garbus makes music about rage and love; it wrestles with cultural inequality while also celebrating the joy of what it feels like to open your mouth and let out a wild sound.

Since her raw and lo-fi — but hardly low-energy — 2009 debut BiRd-BrAiNs, Garbus' one-woman band has expanded considerably, with each addition as carefully picked and positioned as each syncopated drum beat or vocal hocket. Alongside bassist Nate Brenner, she's fleshed out her touring band to include two versatile saxophonists and occasional pot-lid rattlers: Matt Nelson on tenor and Noah Bernstein playing alto.

Maybe you've already listened to this year's w h o k i l l, the band's stunning second record. But watch these four perform live, and you're staring down the throat of a completely different beast. From the first click of the drum stick on the tom drum's lip, you're invited into Garbus' creative machinations; to watch her swirling harmonized hollers and complex rhythms take shape as a song is born before our eyes.

It's always fun to see an artist who commands space and attention play the confined quarters of Bob Boilen's desk. Up close, Garbus' face contorts with a physical manifestation of the bellows and coos and Prince-style wails that come out of her mouth. You can peer over to watch her stocking feet cavort across the loop pedals. Her warmth and willingness to be unrestrained acts as a communal invitation, so when she encourages the audience to jump along during "You Yes You," she invites us to let go of our inhibitions, too.

If you watch closely, you can see everyone here grinning like fools. At the end of the performance, after the cameras were turned off, Garbus smiled and said, "Thanks so much for jumping."

Set List
  • "You Yes You"
  • "Doorstep"
  • "My Country"

Michael Katzif, Bob Boilen (cameras); edited by Michael Katzif; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Mallory Benedict

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