I live my life with low-grade anxiety, one I suspect I share with lots of music fans—those of us with more interest in music than time in the day to pursue it. I’m anxious that there’s a band out there that I need to be listening to but am not. One that would occupy a very special space in my life if only I’d heard it. And unlike many of my other anxieties, this one has been validated. How, for example, is it that Thao and the Get Down Stay Down’s first album, We Brave Bee Stings and All, had been out for nearly two years before I’d even heard of the band? (Hat tip to the good people at All Songs Considered for clueing me in, thereby further proving that I am, in fact, a demographic stereotype.)
Thao’s blend of percussive indie-pop with smart lyrics – coying at times, biting at others—buried into my head from the first listen and hasn’t left. So it was with great excitement that I tore into the album that Thao put out with collaborator Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn earlier this year. That self-titled album proved an exhilarating, if somewhat disjointed, affair. (Read Kevin’s review here)
Having never seen either artist live, it was with even greater excitement that I headed to the Black Cat last Friday to check out their show. From song one the duo came out swinging. By interpreting the album’s gentle “Folks” as a sparse, almost haunting warning to anyone who wants to get too close, they established what would be a theme for the night: Like the album? You’ll love the depth, energy, and emotion we give the songs live.
These are two very different artists –Mirah uses her clear, clean alto for jazz-inspired folk songs. Thao uses her bruise of a voice to keep what might otherwise be saccharine pop engaging and, at times, challenging. That difference leads to the album’s inconsistency. But live, it’s a synergy to behold, with Mirah playing the charming “straight guy” to balance Thao’s savant-like thrashing and yelping.
Throughout the set, which covered the entire album as well as a few songs from each back-catalogue, the pair held fast to their own personas but proved adept at rounding out the other’s style. So while it’s Thao who uses clucking, clapping, and stamping as a trademark, Mirah was the one who joined drummer Lisa Schonberg in spot on pattycake-style percussion during “Teeth.” Likewise, Mirah started off the set’s closer, the Get Down Stay Down favorite “Bag of Hammers” and riled the crowd into sing-along bliss before handing it off to Thao.
This is clearly a duo, and in fact a whole band, who finds joy and inspiration from everyone else on stage—and from everyone in the audience. There was nothing disingenuous about Thao, a Northern Virginia native, shouting the names of her local high school and college, or in Mirah’s repeated chirping about how much fun she was having. And the crowd, which leaned heavily toward a girls’ night out, returned the sentiment with dancing, clapping, and general adoration.
If a little anxiety keeps me on the lookout for shows like this, I’ll happily take it. ‘Cause while I may have been late to the party on this one, I’m damn glad I got there.