Shoulder to shoulder, all eyes gazed at the familiar red curtain. A lone woman in a purple dress subtly steps on the stage in the manner of a second opener. However, this was no forgettable solo act. This was Merrill Garbus, the soul of tUnE-yArDs.
With her trademark asymmetrical haircut and silver face paint, her unwavering confidence beamed over the dimly lit crowd as she began with a series of hums, scats, growls and yelps looped over simple yet powerful drums. The remaining three bandmates progressively accompanied her on stage as she sang her patriotic query "My Country." Bass and dual saxophones further lent to the magically musical chaos.
The siren wailed. Bring the drums. Bring the bass. Add the horns. The crowd checks over their grooving shoulders with stunned smiles as fan favorite "Gangsta" was delivered as the second song. Many bands would be all downhill after playing such a hit so early. Not so tonight.
More cheers flooded the room as Garbus picked up her ukulele. Black tape covered the sound hole and fresh strings curled over the headstock like a muted goldilocks. A fresh rendition of "Es So" gave way to the tambourine and kick drum intro of "Doorstep." As Garbus's more traditional signing abilities were highlighted, the crowd sang and bounced along to the flying and fluid tunes.
With the vigor of a college-kid at recess, curious yet collected, Garbus played one of the only older songs in the setlist before launching the synth and superbly-looped vocal intro of the smash "Bizness." Even the balcony was on the edge of its seats or completely off them at this point. The tune dropped to just the vocals and rim-shot drums before reviving with soaring horns as the elbows, shoulders and hips of those gathered became even more acquainted.
Following the loudest cheers thus far, Garbus took the opportunity to thank the crowd for selling out her first headlining show in St. Louis. "You are a city of love more than Paris," she humbly nodded.
Continuing into arguably the most soulful song of her catalog, "Powa," Garbus's glowing eyes shrunk to a lazy gaze and her kind confidence evolved into a genuine swagger. Delivering the most moving falsetto solo, the crowd couldn't help but attempt to sing along.
She finished her set with a song from her latest album: "Killa." Another familiar, distorted ukulele riff supported her declaration of being a "new kinda woman." No one in attendance would argue with that after such an eclectic demonstration of confidence.
Answering the crowd's cheers, Garbus soon returned to the stage, solo and yodeling to the moon. Inviting the band back, the night was concluded with a brand new song. One last sweet smile bid au revoir to the appreciative attendees as they left into the night much warmer than they came.