photos by Chris La Putt, words by Andrew Sacher
"Fireworks at the pier!!!! Wtf!!! And a full moon. Amazing!!!" - Austra
Hudson River Rocks kicked off their 2011 season in a big way last night (7/14) with tUnE-yArDs and Austra. Due to long lines down the West Side Highway, organizers, who tell us last night's crowd reached 4600 people, delayed the start of the free show so as many people as possible could get inside before Austra started.
Austra's rhythm section started the night with some eerie atmospheres. They were soon joined by Katie Stelmanis and backup singers Sari and Romy Lightman and conjured up album opener "Darken Her Horse." Katie is a huge presence on stage, and with such powerful vocals, she had no trouble projecting this presence across the pier's extensive length. The set felt too short, but it was no less enjoyable. They took on Feel It Break single "Lose It" early on in the set and though it seems like one of the album's more straightforward tracks, it actually showed the band at one of their highest points. The vocal interplay between Katie and the Lightman twins adventured into realms visited by few other synth pop groups. Sari and Romy were as charismatic as Katie but in a more subtle way that suited the performance perfectly. Austra's dark dancey songs sounded amazing outside on the Hudson River, but I couldn't help to think how great they would fit a small poorly lit club like Bowery Ballroom, where you can catch them on August 6 as part of their tour with Cold Cave.
After a short break, tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus came on stage by herself and introduced her set by looping howls and shrieks. Like Katie Stelmanis, Merrill had absolutely no problem letting her presence be known throughout the entire Pier 54. She was soon joined by a bassist and two sax players to tear apart the recently released LP w h o k i l l and put the entire thing back together right in front of the audience. Merrill continued to loop her vocals, which ranged from bird chirps to bear growls and included everything in between. She added layered percussion which could recall polyrhythmic afrobeat, Latin clave rhythms, or hip hop beats at any given moment. As the songs would start to take on a bit of structure, Merrill would throw in these whacked-out chord progressions on her ukulele. She was accompanied by strong basslines and avant-sax lines that channelled the likes of Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. The fact that they were able to pull all of this off and somehow still sound really accessible is just beyond comprehension. And the crowd definitely reciprocated. It was probably the best crowd that I've seen at a show this summer and Merrill was obviously grateful for that. She expressed how amazed she was at the number of people who showed up and recalled an early experience playing NYC at Pianos where five people came to see her previous band Sister Suvi. She also pointed out the (almost) full moon which, in a weird way, was kinda fascinating to see while listening to tUnE-yArDs.
After the incredible set ended and the crowd was thanked multiple times, Merrill and co. exited the stage to return shortly for a one-song encore. As someone who isn't the biggest fan of encores, this one was pretty hard to deny. They played the awesome album closer "Killa" and with about 45 seconds left in the song, fireworks erupted over the Hudson River behind the stage.
More pictures and videos from the show below...
tUnE-yArDs - "Bizness" at Pier 54 7/14/11
tUnE-yArDs - "Killa" at Pier 54 7/4/11 + fireworks