Thao with the Get Down Stay Down: Swinging & Rocking Charlottesville

I’ve become a junkie to Thao Nguyen’s music. Her voice mystifies me. Her whimsical words swivel in fragments and her catchy tune freshen my earlier memories of sounds, warbles, and musical pleasures. Thao rocked the house with her DC-based band the Get Down Stay Down last Saturday night 2/9/08 at Miller’s. For a few hours that night, Thao and her band let in a little bit of air to freshen the Dave-Matthews-looming southern acoustic/jam rock cultural landscape of Charlottesville.

Thao led the band by playing an acoustic Gibson. Sometimes picking, other times strumming and striking the strings with a toothbrush, Thao played guitar while creating uneven sonic fabric upon which her vocals danced. She sang and played syncopated rhythmic patterns with precision, balanced by an appropriate level of spontaneity. Between songs, Thao and the band passed around a tiny bottle of Crown Oil. Slightly intoxicatedly, Thao's vocal cords relaxed and she graced us with soft yodeling: a break between vocal registers. What I heard was a unusual vocal timbre reminiscent of Bjork’s viscerality, David Gray’s vulnerable grittiness, and Norah Jones’ contempo-twang.

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down played songs from their new CD – We Braved Bee Stings and All – released by Kill Rock Stars a little more than a week prior to the show. A number of men and women in the audience knew the lyrics and sang along verbatim. Pleasures to the ear and the body (i.e., foot tapping, clapping, nodding, and finger dancing) permeated the bar and sneaked through the neon lights hung on the window to the brick pedestrian walkway of the Charlottesville Historic Downtown Mall.

Thao obscures her diction when she sings. But I’m not sure if diction and verbal contents are what matter the most in her music. Thao’s incredibly rich vocal palette is convincing. There’s no melodrama, literalism, or showiness. Her persistence of abstract playfulness is unforgetable. If I had to put my attraction to Thao's music in words, it’s her aesthetic leaning for fragmentation rather than holism, ambiguity over clarity, and an ironic yet ambivalent stance regarding the mundane. Whatever it is, she delivers it with plenty amicableness and artfulness. I imagine - many of us of the post-civil-rights generation resonate with Thao's self-conscious pleasures in our postmodern orientation in life. Rock on, Thao!

More images of the show.

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