tUnE-yArDs, Buke & Gass Live Show Review

On a Tuesday night in San Francisco, I wandered to Great American Music Hall, alone, having been told I would only have a ticket for myself. This turned out to be untrue. But with the man at will call telling me that my guest needed to be present right then and there, poor on-the-fly decision-making skills led me to enter the venue without inviting in one of the many strangers waiting pitifully to buy scalped tickets to the sold out show. I apologize, giant line of rejected fans. I am truly sorry that you missed a most joyous celebration of music, and the love of music.

Great American Music Hall
San Francisco, CA
2011 – 04/26

Buke & Gass

Upon entering, Brooklyn’s Buke & Gass had just begun their set. A male-female duo armed simply with a guitar, a bass, and a bass drum, Buke & Gass are quite analog, but sound as though they’ve been chopped and screwed live. At times, female vocalist Arone Dyer sounds like a record stuck on repeat — which might seem annoying, if not for the fact that she is a real live person (!!), not a machine (!!), making the repetition of vocals and instrumentation to such specificity actually quite entrancing.

The duo looked relatively normal on the surface, but soon revealed themselves to be quite eccentric. If you’ll excuse my choice of ornery rhyming pairs, as these are the first which came to mind — the pronunciation of their name is a throw-off; rather than the derivatives one would expect, “Buke” actually rhymes with “puke,” and Gass with “vase.” One can find more wordplay in their names, Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, which I believe are pronounced “Aaron.” And to take it next-level on the playfulness scale, the two made googly eyes at each other throughout their set, vibing together in the same way bassists and drummers are constantly eye-sexing one another during a typical rock show.

Listen to “Your Face Left Before You” – DOWNLOAD MP3

Dyer was very theatrical with her facial expressions, which oscillated in the most unpredictable of SpongeBob SquarePants manners, as she shifted between dissonant and harmonious sounds on her guitar. I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, she might identify with Pee-wee Herman… at least a little bit (which may not sound like a compliment, but it is; I love Pee-wee…).

Buke & Gass performed like children at play, helping the San Francisco crowd forget their adult worries and serving as a perfect opening act for the equally childish tUnE-yArDs.


How fortunate I was this evening, to be able to catch tUnE-yArDs at the beginning of the tour for their latest album, w h o k i l l! And in songwriting powerhouse Merrill Garbus’ hometown, no less! TUnE-yArDs are very, very obviously on the up-and-up, and something tells me this performance may be the last time I get to see them in such an intimate venue (if one can even call Great American Music Hall intimate).

At the very least, though, Garbus certainly deserves the attention, both from a performer standpoint and from a regular ol’ human being standpoint. As one of the nicest, most genuine musicians I’ve met, she cares deeply about the world and social issues, and it shows through her interviews, her music, her videos, her art. Beginning her set with “Do You Wanna Live?,” Garbus beckoned the crowd for an answer to that question, which, evidently, was a resounding “Yes!”

The intro was only one example of the positive, life-affirming songs to come, giving the unfamiliar a sampling of the Garbus of the past — one-woman show with drum and loop pedals — before the whole band crawled on stage, brass and bass in tow. As everyone else celebrated externally (including those who watched Garbus play to nobody at the same venue two years ago, yet held no bitterness), I celebrated internally. Every tUnE-yArDs fan standing in the first six rows of Great American Music Hall was largely female, and 5’3″ or shorter. At last, a show where I could see! Without struggling too intensely!

Click here to read our interview with tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus, on social responsibility as an artist, and the differences between w h o k i l l and BiRd-BrAiNs.

What other antics, friends? Screams from the crowd being accidentally looped into the set! Honest statements from Garbus, along the lines of, “This is generally fun,” and, “This is pure joy!” New arrangements of tracks from BiRd-BrAiNs, replete with two kinds of saxophone! Background dancers who also crowdsurfed (and happen to be the director and choreographer for the “Bizness” video, which you can see embedded below)! Ukelele-and-sax-driven experimental jazz funk awesomeness!

Watching Garbus performing to a packed roomful of people makes me feel like a proud media momma. It’s comforting to see Garbus rise from relative obscurity merely a couple years ago to receiving praise and attention just about everywhere — a reminder that it’s possible, kids! Quality music can rise to the top without one sacrificing one’s values or being purposely heartless and ruthless!

By the end of the night, life seemed too silly and too wonderful, good music too much a universal blessing. My only regret — seriously — was missing the opportunity to spread the jubilation that is a tUnE-yArDs show to an unlucky, pathetic someone waiting fruitlessly outside the venue. Sorry, friends.

And here, this media momma says a bittersweet adieu to tUnE-yArDs, as Garbus and company will no doubt soon ascend into the African sunrise of warm, bright, and ridiculously confounding industry success. Do yourself a favor and watch tUnE-yArDs in a decent-sized venue while you still have a chance. You will not not not not not not not not not not not not regret it, unless you have a habit of taking blessings for granted.

Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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[…] THEMES & CONCEPTS “The artwork plays off of some of the performance aspects of tUnE-yArDs. If you pay close attention, you can see how the whole thing is put together — how the parts make up the whole. The diagonal-patterned lines are intended to mimic the way the sound loops function in the performances. Though each one can stand alone, they are informed and enlivened by the textures that are layered before and after. Merrill [Garbus of tUnE-yArDs] wanted a cover with diagonals, so I incorporated some of the ideas I was working with in my own practice, and we expanded outward from there.” RELATED ARTICLES: TUNE-YARDS AND BUKE & GASS LIVE SHOW REVIEW […]

kerosene rose
kerosene rose
13 years ago

What a wonderfully written article, Giddy. It has, however filled me with regret to have missed them when they were in town!! “Quality music can rise to the top without one sacrificing one’s values or being purposely heartless and ruthless!” Adorable, always the believer ; ) hearts.

13 years ago

best show ive seen in a whiel!

13 years ago

I agree!!! I can’t wait to see this show again,

Written by Vee Hua 華婷婷
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