Live performances can be heartbreaking: You love a band, but it sleepwalks through the set. Then there’s Merrill Garbus. Waving her drumsticks like she’s directing runway traffic, feet flying over effects pedals, she looks like a musical octopus, and to see her live is to watch her bend time to her will.
The brains and face of experimental pop outfit tUnE-yArDs, Garbus samples her own output live—scat melodies, tribal drums, ukulele strums—and cobbles those sounds into driving harmonic arrangements that recall Paul Simon, Bjork, even Fishbone. It’s an on-the-fly stream of musical echoes, all thanks to the Boss RC-2 Loop Station stomp box at her feet that records and replays at a toe-tap.
Garbus, currently touring behind tUnE-yArDs’ 2011 LP, w h o k i l l, says she hopes her work mirrors the din of an urban world and acts as “an antidote for that chaotic collage of sound.” One thing’s certain: You won’t sleep through it.