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.

Tune-Yards, “Sunlight”

This song has pretty much everything tossed in, as if it was some kind
of whirling food processor of a pop-song. There’s a rock-solid drum
beat, the girl’s vocal, the bass drops in at just the right time to
make the grove swing. Then the chorus pops out, like the girl from the
cake in “Some Like It Hot,”
“I could be the sunlight in your eyes/couldn’t I?”
The singer (Merrill Garbus, a proud Vermont product, evidently) must
have listened to lots of Brigitte Fontaine while making this record.
MG has exactly the same balance between threat and vulnerability as
BF, but sings more lightly .
Is that a car alarm sound in the background of the second chorus, and
a symphonic string section coming in around the bridge, or what? Plus
the disco-like breaks here and there, where the whole song is reduced
to a single note, a single instrument, a single pulse or beat. But you
don’t need to wait for those moments to come up, at any moment, like
some kind of hologram, each individual instrument or drum contains its
own solitary, perfected nature; I could spend hours just listening to
the decay of the hi-hat.
Obtain your own copy here.