Yesterday I had the immense pleasure of catching tUnE-yArDs and St. Vincent at the Central Park Summerstage in Manhattan. The concert was part of a series of free concerts put on in Central Park and actually featured one other artist by the name of Basia Bulat but me and my friend missed it in our efforts to navigate through the city and to find the Summerstage which we had never been to before. tUnE-yArDs (aka Merill Garbus) and bassist Nate Brenner, took the stage and started with an audience partipation song which had the crowd screaming "Yeah" each time she asked "Do you want to love?" and then asking everyone to jump out and down. Following her first song was another song I hadn't heard before, followed by another new song about lullabies that sizzled with Marvin Gaye-like steaminess. She invited a slew of musicians from all over to join her onstage to perform the energetic "Gangsta" (another new song but a live favorite of hers) which had the audience cheering practically from start to finish. The musicians helped to replicate the layering effects off her album (one song required two guys to play the drums). She also played "Fiya", "Real Live Flesh" and "Hatari" before finishing up with another new song. Seeing tUnE-yArDs live you get to more or less see her music making process as you watch her sing and drum into her mics that capture all the sounds into the looping petals and get to see her experiment with what kinds of sounds she wants (hitting different parts of her mic stand before deciding on which one she liked best). In addition to being an amazing performer with a gigantic voice, she also had a remarkable stage presence regaling the audience with little anecdotes when time allowed and inspiring even the most steadfast of buzzkills to dance along with her.
I had gone into the concert without actually listening to that much St. Vincent. I had listened to Actor about once all the way through and never really listened to it again but had heard she was amazing live. What St. Vincent's music is like is hard to explain: Sort of quirky indie pop music with experimental electronic effects and distortion. She had a full array of instruments of stage and all of her band-mates proved to be skilled multi-instrumentalists. Her violinist was also a guitarist, her flautist also playing synthesizer when needed, her bassist occasionally whipping out a clarinet and also some strange instrument I couldn't see but still managed to vibrate your organs when he played it. On that note, I should mention there was so much bass power during her set that every time he played, the audience was shaken to their very core and despite audience requests to "Turn down the bass", this continued for the whole set. Not being familiar with St. Vincent's music and albums I can't provide a setlist but I do know she performed a track from Actor called "The Party" live for the first time at this concert. In order to execute it, she had another set of musicians come onstage to assist: another violinist, violist, cellist, french horn, even a bass clarinet made an appearance. Her set was for the most part pretty mellow and Annie Clark said practically nothing except to ask for her mic to be turned up, to introduce her band-mates and guest musicians, to thank everyone and wish them a fond farewell but there was something awe-inspiring about her performance. How each little thing fit together to form this grand tapestry of sound and how Annie could start and stop it all with just so much as a laser-focused glance in any one direction. While not as energetic and dance-inspiring as tUnE-yArDs, there was totally a sort of magical mystique to St. Vincent's set and in Annie Clark's overall demeanor and to say I didn't enjoy it would be a boldfaced lie. I know I plan on revisiting her albums and giving them another focused listen.
The concert as a whole was pretty interesting in only for the juxtaposition of the loud, energetic, skillful banging and crashing tUnE-yArDs and the calm, tranquil yet foreboding St. Vincent. It was obvious that those who hadn't heard of tUnE-yArDs before were certainly hooked but concert-goers might've been a bit disappointed by St. Vincent. One friend claimed to be underwhelmed by her performance but my theory is that St. Vincent meant to neither overwhelm nor underwhelm but merely create and capture a magical moment, to make you really listen and pay attention to what was occurring on stage and if that was in fact her goal, she succeeded in the most artful manner I've seen thus far.