Illustration by Gabriel Toscano

Following a difficult year of canceled and rescheduled dates, live music is once again thriving in the Utah scene. The return of both the Ogden and Salt Lake City Twilight Concert Series marked a return to regularly scheduled programming of large outdoor shows as well as those held at many indoor venues in the valley.  

For detailed information on concerts held in and around the Salt Lake metro area, visit SLUG’s  ever-handy online guide published at slugmag.com/daily-calendar/ 

On Tuesday, August 10th, Oakland band Tune-Yards brought an energetic and danceable setlist to Metro Music Hall, grazing the city with a flavor of socially conscious indie-pop that defines the band’s fifth release Sketchy (2021)Having worked on side-projects including the score for Boot Riley’s masterpiece Sorry to Bother You which premiered in Sundance in 2018, Tune-Yards returned to the stage with a renewed taste for music with a purpose.  

The three-piece touring band spearheaded by Merrill Garbus on vocals, percussion and ukulele, along with Nate Gerber on bass, presented a convincing message of self-awareness, coloniality, love, despair and resolution. Garbus’ mastery of loopers added to their complex harmony and polyrhythmic possibilities, delivering a sound that extended the reach of the small ensemble. High-octave vocals pierced through groovy if unorthodox rhythm sections. Melodic variations accompanied changes in a cadence that emphasize the import of a wide range of influences — from lo-fi to classic rock, from indie-folk to hip-hop and Africana.  

Long time fans were pleased to hear emblematic singles such as “Gansta” and “Bizness” performed with can only be described as pure joy. Echoing the band’s enthusiasm, the venue was replete with singing, dancing and praise for a group familiar to the Salt Lake area. Unsurprisingly, in the face of rising COVID-19 cases across the U.S., eager concertgoers willingly donned masks throughout the entire show. In a short monologue, Garbus thanked the crowd for masking and urged the audience to dance and find comfort in sharing music despite ongoing difficulties.  

Listeners will find Sketchy paradoxically comforting as lush melodies dole out a moral imperative to delve into complicity, racism, gender and social justice, all of which inform and inspire the album. With this release, Tune-Yards has grown into an ensemble that is willing and able to follow a moral compass in ways that enhance their aesthetic integrity. The uncompromising album feels, thinks and sounds in bursts of protest–layering elements that become increasingly salient the longer you listen.  

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