Photo By Chris La Putt for Brooklyn Vegan
The line outside Hudson River Park looked more than intimidating this past Thursday evening as it wound down the West Side Highway. This could only mean one thing: Free show. Thursdays in New York in the summer are filled with them and this one in particular was on everyone's mind as the kickoff of the Hudson River Rocks 2011 season. tUnE-YarDs was playing tonight, with Toronto based female-fronted band Austra.
By the time I made it inside, Austra was already halfway through their set. Their eerie goth-tinged electronica was emanating throughout the park with lead singer Katie Stelmanis at the helm, leading the backup vocals of twins Sari and Romy Lightman. Although the beautiful vocals were moving to say the least, there was more talking and less movement going on in the crowd. The loud outdoor situation was not the best for Austra's low-key synth pop. Then again, you can't fit 4600 people in Bowery Ballroom where the group will be playing on August 6th.
The sun was going down now as Merrill Garbus of tUnE-YarDs took the stage. The crowd immediately responded with shouts and cheers. A friend turned to me surprised and said he definitely thought that Garbus had been "a big black woman, judging from her voice," not this round mousy haired 30-something, with face paint and a zebra print dress on. Garbus immediately launched into what she does best, looping that unique voice and drum beats in a little impromptu opener. The crowd was ecstatic and Garbus responded equally as excitedly, making the whole audience turn and look at the (almost full) moon that had now risen behind us.
Garbus was soon joined by the rest of her band; bassist Nate Brenner and her sax section. The group pounded through their latest album w h o k i l l
in almost its entirety. Each song sounding brand new though as Garbus would open by banging on drums (or the mic stand) and screech and howl until the beat morphed into a steady groove getting the crowd dancing and clapping along. Each song was built up, piece by piece, so intricately arranged and so playfully done. From Garbus' siren-like vocals on "Gangsta" to her fierce call and response with the audience on "Do You Wanna Live?".
Her energy on stage was unmatched; you could feel how grateful she was to be doing exactly what she loved. And we were loving it too. By the end of the set there was nothing to do but beg for an encore to which Garbus first answered with a powerful solo and then brought the band back out to finish with the killer jam "Killa" complete with intense sax shredding. Just as the multi-layered chorus exploded, so did something else. Fireworks were being set off along the Hudson. It was the perfect way to finish out an unbelievable and awe-inspiring performance by tUnE-YarDs, and the perfect start to the Hudson River Rocks Festival.