Last Friday night, with special guests Delicate Steve and (all the way from London) Micachu and the Shapes.
It was, as expected, an extraordinary evening of far-out African-inflected and futuristic pop/dance/rock music. Great musicianship all around, as this clip of the tUnE-yArDs’ “Bizness” (one of a long series of highlights) only hints at. (I was not the photographer. I was just somewhere between the camera and the Merrill Garbus.)
One of the most amazing moments of the show: As “Real Live Flesh” was winding down to segue into the next number, a plug to Garbus’s new loop machine slipped out and a country swing tune unsettlingly spilled out of the PA system. I wondered for a split second if this was intentional, but the startled look on Garbus’s face strongly suggested it was an accident. Apparently the loop was on the same channel as a local radio station, and when it kicked out, the station kicked right in. A few beats later, Garbus was swaying to the music and one of her sax players (I think it was Matt Nelson) began to jam with it. When the technical glitch was fixed, Garbus sheepishly announced that things like this happen to her when she begins taking herself too seriously. She was clearly moved by how forgiving her audience was. New York, she then said, always makes her nervous, something she’d said earlier in the night. But during Delicate Steve’s set, which opened the evening, she was sitting in the balcony looking over the crowd and she was moved by seeing people of every age, every race, every sex and gender and orientation. “I love you guys,” she said. And I believe her. We loved her back. The show just got better and better, the band more and more relaxed, from then on.
I didn’t know much of Delicate Steve’s music, but I was impressed with the band’s musicianship and sense of adventure, especially Steve Marion’s charismatic lead guitar. Frankly, after hearing some of their recorded music, I have to say I much prefer them live. They’ve a bit heavier and fuller sounding. Like the other bands on the bill, they’re not easy to describe. They remind me a little of Kenyan benga music, very rhythmic, psychedelic, sinewy and hypnotic. Out-of-the-ordinary stuff.
Mica Levi of Micachu and the Shapes was charmingly dubious about the reception she would get in New York. She asked in her thick East London accent, “Can you understand what we’re saying?” I don’t always understand, especially when she sings over the more full-bodied of her orchestrations. But I love her melancholy voice the more and more I listen to it. The three members of the band make a beautiful noise. Marc Pell, I think, is an extraordinarily groovy drummer, in the old jazz sense of the term rather than the hippie one. Although the whole band is pretty hippily groovy.
Support your local and touring out-there musicians, if you can: