Everyone knows that Terminal 5 is an unforgiving cavern.
Perennially attracting big names besides being widely disliked by music fans, the three-story megaclub shows no pity, regularly making the massive sound tiny, the intricate and multi-hued sound mushed and rushed. But the true of heart fight on, hoping that sweat and vision can triumph over indifferent sound design.
The art-school trio Micachu and the Shapes were debuting songs from their upcoming sophomore album Never during their opening slot on Friday night. But while the band was in good spirits, thanking us all for coming early and clearly beaming with excitement to play with tUnE-yArDs, the echoing walls of the venue flattened out their mix of finely-strummed guitars and sprightly keyboard waves, implying a colorful wave of skewed pop but leaving the details too obscured to deliver.
Part of this can probably be chalked up to this being one of the U.K. group's first gigs after finishing the album; given a smaller room or more experience with the songs, their charisma could likely overcome any technical obstacles.
The loop-happy, live-collage art-dance project tUne-yArDs had their own share of technical difficulties during their headlining set. On record, the piercing keyboard interjection on "My Country" can serrate your brain, destroying any apathy you might dream of having. It sounded OK on stage, but kind of tiny.
No matter how many drum loops singer/drummer/ukulele-wielder Merrill Garbus and bassist Nate Brenner constructed onstage, their handmade compositions never banged hard enough.
But even if the sound wasn't all the way there, Garbus certainly was. No amount of poor mixing can stop that woman's call-to-arms voice, and even if you couldn't always hear how hard she was playing, you could certainly see it.
If she wasn't carefully constructing her backing tracks one looped beat at a time, she was showing her ukulele no mercy, furiously strumming it (and then feeding it through who knows how many distortion effects) like she was daring you to call it a twee instrument.
By the end of the night Garbus and her backing players had built up enough steam that sound quality just didn't seem as important anymore, leading a rousing sing-a-long of "don't take my life away/don't take my life away" during a climactic rendition of equality anthem "Bizness." Clearly, Garbus has too much on her mind to let a flat sound get her down.