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Tune-yards captivate in colorful, percussive ACL performance

Erin J. Walter

Colorful, percussive, and eclectic by design, Tune-yards brought experimental pop to ACL Fest on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon.

Primarily a vehicle for New England-native Merill Garbus, the now Oakland-based band–often a duo but this time including regular bassist Nate Brenner and three accompanying vocalists/instrumentalists–wore painterly bright outfits that fit their quirky, enthusiastic performance. Garbus banged her drums with long, dramatic arm motions, singing in a fierce, deep wail at times, then shifting easily to tense staccato and back.

“Jump back! Jump back!” and “WOOHAW, WOOHAW! Gotcha,” Garbus yelped on “Water Fountain.” Background harmonies made for rich layers on standout track “Bizness” as choruses of “Don’t take my life away” resonated across the park.

“When it comes to politics, sexuality or economic power,” The L Magazine once wrote, “Merill Garbus neatly lines up the dividing walls of a segregated cultural mindset and proceeds to smash them, musically, one by one.” It’s hard to make out some of those radical deconstructions during a festival set–and for a white American band playing music more than tinged by Afrobeat, the line between experiment and appropriation can come up for discussion. But Tune-yards were compelling enough to make new listeners want to dig deeper and decide for themselves.

Garbus expressed heartfelt gratitude to be playing for a festival crowd, inviting everyone to the band’s after-show at Emo’s on Sunday night and return ACL engagement next weekend. “But if you can’t make it, just thanks for being here now.”