Sister Suvi in concert wields the clarity, density, & menace of a falling chandelier

Sister Suvi, the trio of Merril Garbus, Nico Dann and Patrick Gregoire, in concert wields the clarity, density, and menace of a falling chandelier. At Bowery Ballroom Thursday night, Merril disavowed the “power trio” label, but really, what else do you call a three piece that works so hard to create space within their songs? There’s harmonic space, with lots of drones, revealing the compositional skeleton like a delicate chain drawing attention to its decolletage; there’s rhythmic space, with off-meter handclaps and tarantella-like drumstick beats that pull the emphases away from the ones and threes (and twos and fours) like a stuttering set of power drapes opening to reveal a puppet stage; there’s always space in the arrangement for another ukulele-powered surge. La Garbus gets more out of her ukulele than any recent performer I’ve seen, largely by committing her performance and songcraft utterly into its twangling, tinny, overprocessed care. It does for a guitar (not to diminish Gregoire’s guitar wrangling) but smaller, thinner, more vulnerable. And her voices: Merril’s alto just hovers in the air, like a giant gong reverberating in the silence of the arrangements.
I don’t want to make Sister Suvi sound like Merril Garbus plus two, but it was the promise of Tune-Yards that got me out to the show, and I think her many gifts make her the most natural starting point for the Sister Suvi initiate like yourself, dear Reader. Thao Nguyen came on after, and wisely featured both Merril and opening act Samantha Crain as backup singers. The sound of Merril’s gorgeously calm and centered voice settling over Thao’s bony and pinched vocals and arrangements was the layer of snow that reveals the classic cityscape underneath.