I’m not sure that I’ve ever been to a show where the supporting artist and headliner paired as well together as Xenia Rubinos and Tune-Yards did. Musically, politically, energetically, the two acts were made for each other.
I managed to score a ticket to the tour’s recent (and sold-out) stop at Brooklyn Steel, one of NYC’s youngest venues. Despite its youth, Brooklyn Steel has been booking a solid lineup of first class acts, and this Xenia Rubinos-Tune-Yards team up fits right in.
Xenia Rubinos Pulls No Punches
The March 9 Brooklyn Steel show marked Rubinos’ last night supporting Tune-Yards (Tune-Yards are heading to Europe for a month before swinging back to the states in April and May) and the Brooklyn resident held nothing back on her final performance of the trip.
Her set, tearing through a handful of tracks from both her albums — 2013’s Magic Trix and 2016’s Black Terry Cat — was electric. It was less a concert and more performance art-made-sonic, with Rubinos pouring every ounce of her energy and her not inconsiderable passion into every note of every song.
Xenia Rubinos kicked the night off on a groovy note with tunes like “Lonely Lover” and the incredibly emotional and impassioned “Cherry Tree,” setting the tone with her incredible pipes and vocal improvisations. She then amped up the energy, playing some of her more rock-influence tunes: “Whirlwind,” “Right?,” the rousing “Mexican Chef,” which the audience really connected with.
The heart of Rubinos’ two albums are an incredible experimentation, the ability to pull from a myriad of seemingly disparate genres and meld them into something uniquely Xenia Rubinos. (Though the guest acts weren’t there to perform it with her on Friday, Rubinos’ latest single, 2017’s “Levitating” follows the pattern.) That spirit, that ethos, was on full display.
Tune-Yards Stays True to Roots While Growing
The spirit, that ethos, is what binds Rubinos and Tune-Yards so strongly. Though she pulls from different genres than Rubinos — drawing elements of pop, a range of world-music sounds, and, on her most recent album, I can feel you creep into my private life, electronic and even techno — Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus makes a sound wholly and uniquely hers. This shared drive and ability, I’d bet my bottom dollar, is why Tune-Yards selected Xenia as her supporting act.
During her set, just over an hour, Tune-Yards hit tunes from all her albums, with the exception of her debut, BiRd-BrAiNs. Where the energy that Xenia gave off was rather joyful, Tune-Yards brought an anxious, tense energy to Brooklyn Steel — fitting, as I can feel you creep into my private life, definitely has more of an edge than her previous work.
It was absolutely absorbing and, combined with the innovative light show, it grabbed you and wouldn’t let go. Interspersed throughout were sonically lighter tunes from her earlier work — notably “Es-So,” “Powa,” “Gangsta,” and “Bizness,” all from 2011’s Whokill — worked to keep that tense edge at bay just enough.
I have to shout out Tune-Yard’s touring drummer, Hamir Atwal. Atwal was an absolute machine on his kit, and I’ve never been so transfixed by a drummer’s performance. I’d happily go see him perform a solo show.
An Unforgettable Show
The scene at Brooklyn Steel this past Friday was one of female empowerment and the uncontainable urge to create and share unique, boundary-pushing music. Both Xenia Rubinos and Tune-Yards are visionary, working with different genres to create astounding and inimitable music — Rubinos with her rock-funk-R&B-hip hop and Tune-Yards with her electro-world-layered-pop.
Neither Xenia Rubinos nor Tune-Yards are an act to miss — if you have the chance to see them, take it, and allow yourself to be emerged in their personal soundscapes. It’s a true privilege.
All photos by Sara Wass