Merrill Garbus, without having even released her latest album, ‘Nikki Nack’, set a storm upon her fans after announcing a one-night-only appearance at London’s Village Underground. Predictably, it sold out in minutes, and those with tickets were undoubtedly in for one of the hottest shows so far this year.
It would be an understatement to call Garbus timid, but it was with both confidence and control when she took to the stage, and it was this quietly assured manner that she opened with a combined rendition of Sinko, immediately followed by Gangsta.
Garbus is notorious for her ingenious use of loop pedals, make shift drums, yells and ukuleles, which has thrown her into a new world of experimental sounds. If her albums blew you away, particularly her 2011 ‘WHOKILL’, you’ll have no idea what’s hit you when you’ve seen her live. There’s a sense of precision amongst the carefully calculated layers of sound she produces, and yet Garbus still manages to convey a sense of improvisation when on stage. Having said this, I’m in no doubt that she continues to experiment, even in front of several hundred people, and it’s this that sets her apart from other performers.
There was a perfect balance of new material with old, so half from her latest release ‘Nikki Nak’ and the rest coming predominantly from ‘WHOKILL’, with just one or two tracks from ‘Bird Brains’. The group’s rendition of both ‘Powa’ and ‘Esso’ were phenomenal, and her band really came to life throughout. Her most recent and unquestionably outstanding track, ‘Water Fountain’, is packed with playground melodies, and the band’s live performance of this was teaming with layers of drums, looped vocals, and everything else under the sun. Garbus and her two backing singers then took to the stage and performed a stunning accapella cover of the album’s penultimate song ‘Rocking Chair’. With three incredible voices that touched on Southern-American blues, they had the audience rapt from start to finish.
One of the most prominent features of her performance at Village Underground was her constant and unfaltering demeanor of self-expression. Perhaps this is the most captivating aspect of her as an artist, but there is a strong sense across the album that Garbus has both the integrity and freedom to do exactly what she wants, and this uniqueness has surely helped her on her along the ever-quickening road to success.
Words: Ellie Rumbold