Here’s a new band on me: Micachu and The Shapes (with multi-instrumentalist Mica Levi, keyboardist Raisa Khan and drummer Marc Pell) have been playing and recording highly idiosyncratic pop music since 2008. I’m glad to say I’ll be seeing them with another eccentric pop band I’ve written about, tUnE-yArDs featuring Merrill Garbus, as well as Delicate Steve, about whom I know almost nothing. Of course tUnE-yArDs is my main reason for going to the show (June 1st at Terminal 5 in New York City), but researching the other bands on YouTube, I discovered this is promising to be an extraordinary evening.
I think Garbus is a brilliant song-writer and musician. Her music, which borrows something from African pop and traditional music and mashes it with hip-hop, funk and hard rock, is like almost nothing else I’ve heard. The relatively spare and unusual instrumentation (highly amplified ukelele, snare drum, loop machine, bass, xylophones, saxophones) is uniquely suited to her versatile voice.
After watching Micachu and The Shapes videos, I am excited by the aptness of putting Mica Levi and Merrill Garbus on the same bill. (Delicate Steve I need to see more of, but I liked what I heard.) Levi, who has been playing and writing music since four, won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she studied composition. Meanwhile, she was creating beats and mix tapes for her own pleasure on her laptop. According to an interview with a Portuguese journalist on YouTube, she says she wasn’t particularly good at classical music, mainly because she felt constrained by the dictatorship of the notes on the page over performance. She’s more interested in the freedom of improvisation, and she also enjoys the freedom of creating new instruments (à la Harry Partch) and discovering how to play them. Talk about pop music as you’ve never heard it before!
In my post about tUnE-yArDs, I wrote about Garbus’s androgyny, which I have been surprised to discover is on the minds of a lot of people who stumble upon her band. (Some of the most popular search terms that bring people to this blog are “tUnE-yArDs boy or girl” and “Merrill Garbus mustache.” I wish I were kidding.) In any case, if people were confused by Garbus, Levi is going to blow their minds. She looks (and maybe sounds a little) like Jonathan Richman at age 12. But like Garbus, she is utterly fascinating to watch in performance. There’s something profoundly beautiful about a person who follows her own drumbeat.
Here’s a video about Levi that was shown on London’s Channel 4. It’s interesting to compare her self-assuredness here with the more tentative attitude in the Portuguese interview linked to above. I also appreciate the inclusion of footage showing her build and play an original instrument halfway through. Here you get a real sense of the mind behind the music.