ACL Live Shot: Tune-Yards

Iggy Azalea, Lana Del Rey: pay attention to Merrill Garbus

On a day lousy with powerful female performers, Tune-Yards electrified the afternoon with technicolor energy.

Merrill Garbus embodied that rippling energy with a brightly colored dress and hot-pink tights as she layered loops of yelps and ululations with an assist from her two theatrically enthusiastic backup singers, Jo Lampert and Abigail Nessen Bengson.

Going “Gangsta” on yo ass: Merrill Garbus (Photo by Shelley Hiam)

Drawing heavily from this year’s finely wrought Nikki Nack, the group kept the energy high with “Rocking Chair,” followed by “Sink-O” and “Hey Life,” the songs’ dark tones gleefully camouflaged by hopscotch rhythms and bright instrumentation.

Garbus & Co. dipped back into the archive with tunes off of 2011 breakout Whokill, including the obligatory “Gangsta,” “Powa,” the ode to sexytimes that found Garbus making eyes at her bassist/boyfriend Nate Brenner, and “Bizness,” which mushroomed into a protracted string of false endings that teased an audience eager to be pleased.

The most affecting moment of the hour-long set came during “Stop That Man,” a violent tune with vengeance at its core. Near the end, Lampert and Nessen Bengson leapt to the front of the stage, fixed their faces into eerily smiling maws, and scream-sang dissonant harmonies, their cheerful clothes belying everything the tableau implied.

Putting Garbus’ songwriting in the context of how shitty it is to be a woman in the world these days, the effect was chilling – and a sharp reminder of Garbus’ slyly feminist genius.

Read the Chronicle's interview with Merrill Garbus.

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Tune-Yards, ACL Fest, ACL Fest 2014, Merrill Garbus, Jo Lampert, Abigail Nessen-Bengson, Nate Brenner

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