The Tune Have Fun Reinventing Ancient Korean Sounds at Lincoln Center

by delarue

There’s been an explosion of psychedelic folk-rock coming out of Korea recently, and Lincoln Center has become one of the best places in New York to see it. Last night all-female quintet the Tune made alternately slinky, swaying and galloping themes out of ancient chants, dance tunes and peasant songs. Yujin Lee’s elegant neoromantic piano imbued the sound with a western classical lustre: there were times when the music sounded straight out of the UK circa 1974. But as translucent as their melodies are, the group have an enigmatic side: “Nobody knows us except us,” frontwoman Hyunkyung Go grinned. As the night went on, she turned out to be very funny: it’s been awhile since such an amusing band played here.

She opened the evening’s first song with a crystalline, quasi-operatic delivery over stagely, shapeshifting percussion and Lee’s piano ripples. With two small gongs, plus mallets on the drums, the polyrhythms grew more complex, the vocals considerably grittier as the thump picked up. Echoes of vintage American soul music, the witchy art-song of Carol Lipnik and maybe 70s art-rock like Genesis emerged.

A rhythmic, shamanistic invocation gave way to more moody classical lustre, percussionist Minji Seo’s thumb piano clicking along with the keys as their frontwoman wailed like a Korean PJ Harvey before backing away for Seo’s otherworldly taepyungso oboe. Then Go picked up her melodica as the band pulsed along gently, Seo’s piri flute adding austere color.

The shaman song after that had an imploring edge, shreddy taepyungso and a galloping triplet beat: that one really woke up the crowd. Lee switched to a vibraphone setting as the thicket of percussion – Haneol Song on drumkit, Soungsoun Lee on janggu barrel drum and Seo on a medium-sized gong – grew more hypnotic.

The song that followed, Port of Strangers had an unsettled, even aching quality, the unease of immigrants on new land transcending any linguistic limitations even as Go reached out her arms as if to welcome everyone there. But when she picked up a kazoo, she couldn’t keep from cracking up on the first verse of Youth Song, an undulating, minor-key workingperson’s blues (and drinking person’s blues) lowlit by echoey Fender Rhodes piano. Yet it wasn’t long before she got serious, singing in passable Spanish, going down on the the floor to get a clapalong going.

Go messed shamelessly with the audience, who’d been handed branches to keep time during a lively round that finally wound up with a mighty dancefloor thump and a wild taepyungso solo. The encore was a rousing mashup of oldschool 60 soul and Korean polyrhythms.

The next free concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is Nov 14 at 7:30 PM, where wildly popular india classical composer, violinist and singer Caroline Shaw joins forces with the Attacca String Quartet. Get there on time if you’re going.