Sporting what looked like a self-made haircut, frontman Patrick Gregoire lead the quartet with yelps and howls over an ever-present beat and complex lead guitar chords. It was rowdy, restless and heartfelt. Witnessing the performance was unexpected and rejuvenating. It's so refreshing to discover new music by chance, especially in a live setting when it can be at its most raw. By the end nearly everyone was dancing and participating with group-wide handclaps to the beat. Overhead, the disco ball cast a swirl of reflective stars across the venue and there was even the vision of a half-moon cats against one wall, adding a special touch to a very special set.
Afterwards I approached Gregoire to convey my gratitude and learned that his band was from Montreal, the same city as headliner tUnE-yArDs. With the band's ruffian antics and oversized shirts cut into tanks, one could easily mistake them from hailing format he same southern playground as Black Lips or early-Kings of Leon (before that band let itself get overblown and crummy). It wasn't until after the show that it dawned on me that I had met Gregoire a couple times prior, when he was a member of the post-Unicorns group Islands. I also then realized that he was the Patrick thanked and extolled in the liner notes of the first tUnE-yArDs album.
Following the standard change-over timeframe, tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus appeared, sporting her signature markings of face paint. Taking her spot at the center of her drum set-up and in between two microphones, she instantly had the audience captivated. By this time the majority of attendees had pushed up very close to the stage and there was a certain humidity in the air.
It feels like a privilege to watch Garbus build her multi-part looped beats from scratch on every song, as though you're being let into a private process or even taking part. This sold-out show was my fifth time seeing her. In the earliest shows I caught, people would stand silent as she began layering her vocals and beats. Not so this time around. People yelled and hollered at Garbus—and her band, a bassist and two horn players—almost constantly, but it never distracted her. It seemed everyone was feeding off the same energy. For single "Bizness," from latest bum w h o k i l l, Garbus even turned over the mic to the audience to record the intense cheering.
As delicate as they are aggressive, I've always felt that Garbus' songs come alive in their truest form when performed live. They are full-on, intense and expansive, sounding all the more the warrior cry they were seemingly created to be as they filled the room. It didn't take long for the room to swell into a dance party.
Towards the end of her set, she premiered a new song, but surprisingly absent from the regular setlist and encore was "News," the free download single that served as an introduction for many fans during the promotion of Garbus' first album BiRd-BrAiNs.
"This is the part that takes a long time. Just go on and groove," Garbus said before building up one of her final songs."Just go and groove" should be the motto for her entire sets.