The Afro-beat invasion in American pop music is something that is often written off instantly. Too many people close-mindedly stand behind the “Paul Simon did it better 30 years ago” argument. No one is saying Graceland isn’t an incredible record, but that shouldn’t mean no white man can ever again show signs of being influenced by Tony Allen’s drumming. Tune-Yards and Delicate Steve took the stage at Terminal 5 on June 1st and showed that there are still fresh and exciting ways to incorporate this inspiration heavily into pop music.
Delicate Steve, perhaps more famous for his outlandish faux-bio/press release written by Chuck Klosterman than he is for his music at this point, is the project of multi-instrumentalist Steve Marion. Steve and his band took the stage with purpose, sharply at 8 pm, and delivered a set of rhythmic instrumentals anchored by his signature slide guitar stylings. His debut album Wondervisions was well represented throughout the show. The five-piece communicates well on-stage and leaves plenty of room for each other to breathe. Delicate Steve is a refreshing live act because when they play, you find yourself miles away from the manufactured and soulless, but rather knee deep in muddy tones and genuine feel good melodies.
The headlining act was Tune-Yards. With the release of w h o k i l l Merrill Garbus has gone from lo-fi indie buzz girl to festival circuit heroine, and deservedly so. Her music is fearless, important, and catchy all at once. From a musical standpoint, to watch her effortlessly create intricate rhythmic soundbeds by looping using her voice and a couple of drums is nothing short of riveting. Other than that she is only armed with a ukulele, which she wields like a weapon. She is backed by tenor and alto saxophones and a bass guitar/synth player. The odd instrumentation results in completely fresh sounds that leave audiences wide-eyed and neck-bobbing.
Garbus is a lioness of the stage, commanding attention and using her power wisely. Watching a strong woman lash out against America’s obsession with unhealthily skinny girls in front of thousands of people, as she did in “Es-so”, might be the most effective eye-opener toward that problem I’ve ever seen. She’s an extremely powerful performer — that special breed of songwriter that punches you in the gut with talent and leaves you with plenty to think about. I heartily endorse the music I heard from Delicate Steve and Tune-Yards, and I have a strong feeling that Paul Simon would too.