Sunday's Central Park Summerstage show at Rumsey Playfield brought together three talented young female singer-songwriters—Basia Bulat, tUnE-YaRdS (Merrill Garbus), and St. Vincent—in a night of surprising contrasts (videos below). In particular, tUnE-YaRdS and St. Vincent, two acts that might be thought of as carrots-and-peas because of their intricate electronic instrumentation, turned out to offer powerful yet distinct pleasures.
tUnE-YaRdS ambushed the stage in face-paint, and this time, unlike at the Bowery Ballroom, Garbus had substantial musical company, their faces similarly adorned. Admitting early on in the show that playing to the SummerStage crowd was a “high point” in her life so far, Garbus busted out four new songs, each one sounding more exuberant and polished than the last. There was brass and woodwind accompaniment, and the African-sounding rhythms were supported by a second (standing) drummer. Particularly jarring, in the tUnE-YaRdS fashion, was a new song seemingly about the existential crises of people who want to be gangstas and rock stars, punctuated with elegant saxophone squawks. Garbus, despite her ability to touch listeners in visceral ways—one girl flung up her hands in joy upon recognizing the first few bars of “Sunlight”—also had a few quirkier tricks up her sleeve. During the climax of “Hatari” she dropped her voice to a seemingly impossible register, one that almost sounded like an alto saxophone, or a car horn, or maybe a goose. Great cheers erupted from the audience. “That’s my New York special,” she explained.
St. Vincent, meanwhile, had an unexpectedly cerebral appeal, despite her prominence relative to tUnE-YaRdS. The presence of a live orchestra benefited her music, though in a different way: instead of giving full birth to nascent, home-recorded tracks, it seem to unpack the dense arrangements on "Actor," which were borne out of both genius and resources. However, the sound system was not always a boon to the band; sometimes it was far too heavy on the bass for an act whose intricacies reside almost entirely in the treble range. Annie Clark eventually sacrificed her ethereal mystique to channel her frustration, classic rock 'n' roll-style, into her guitar playing, shuddering and jumping with surprising energy. "The Party," rather than the lullaby that it is on the album, ended the show on a dark, billowing note, with chiptune sounds and waves of electronic sludge. The sky was overcast, but not a drop of rain fell during the show; perhaps, having been bestowed such luck by the gods, a band can toy with darkness.
Here's St. Vincent playing "Laughing With a Mouth of Blood":
And Tune-Yards playing "Real Live Flesh":