The Sunday evening lethargy is palpable at Vicar St and there’s a very chilled atmosphere. There’ll be no legging it down Dame St for a drink after, this is the only destination of the night. The upstairs area is closed and covered over with black cloth and there’s plenty of space around downstairs. (Alas I missed The Last Days of 1984 as I mixed up the venue!)
A funny looking trio wearing baggy shirts take the stage. They are the 2009 Mercury Prize nominees Micachu & The Shapes. The androgynous singer with thick glasses is on guitar, another girl to the left on keyboard and an older looking drummer is on the right at the front stage. They start with a simple riff which they repeat and layer upon. It’s quirky sounding with an usual groove. There’s a clumsy feel to the guitar with the middle turned way up and a springy reverb. Drums are key with these simple structures and the drummer has an electric pad which he mixes in with the kit perfectly. The crowd lift and get in to the rhythms. It’s fascinating to watch as the songs go forward and back sounding like a slowed down tape machine at points. The only bands to compare them to are possibly Clinic for their rolling jams, or, Conan Mockasin for sheer weirdness and ingenuity. A great band to awaken the crowd to; definitely one band to check out and keep an eye on.
Merrill Garbus walks onstage and Vicar St falls to total silence. Opening with one high note which she puts down on a loop, she layers another on top, then another. The strength of her voice almost makes you cower. This cacophony is then dropped in against separate loops. The ease at which she does this is incredible. “Let’s have fun” she says and a huge cheer goes up and after the first song she gets a beat going with a floor tom, snare and hi hat and is joined by two sax players and a bass player. The ukulele distorts and gets a bashing for most of the gig. With each smile as she sings the crowd urge her forward and the venue comes to life.
Garbus’ appearance betrays her sound. Hailing from Connecticut you wouldn’t expect an African voice. She’s got the deep husky lows, a jazziness and a soulful sassyness that’s mesmerizing. Once or twice you can hear the Whitney Houston ‘whooos’ to boot. It’s all effortless, the voice, the beats; her overall good vibes beam out. She’s Miriam Makeba making urban music for a new generation. “Gangsta” and “Bizness” are songs to stroll around the city to and stand out in the set. She brings it around through some darker songs just accompanied by some keyboard. After a brief lag she gets things going again and they close on a high.
She’s off now, she says, to record a new album so wont be back in Dublin for a while. It’s a great fusion of folk and afro-pop which will probably bring her an even bigger crowd next time round.