I didn’t think I could love Thao and the Get Down Stay Down any more than I already did after listening to their latest album, but I went to see them at the Broadberry recently and was blown away by their live performance.
Thao writes songs that are somehow both complex and unexpected yet completely danceable. Their rhythms are intricate and compelling, pulling the listener in and inviting you to move to the music. The melodies are sometimes unexpected, sometimes catchy, and somehow manage to be both at once. Thao’s well crafted, poetic lyrics play against the music in a way that brings out their meaning. These elements blend together seamlessly to create music that affects the listener completely, engaging you and immersing you entirely in the emotion of the song. This effect was magnified by the immersive nature of experiencing a live performance – I was completely lost in the music the entire time.
The last song in the set, and my favorite of the night, was “Meticulous Bird”. If you’re interested you can listen here for a live version (good audio but the video’s not great) or here for the album version. Before it began, Thao Nguyen, the lead singer, talked about how meaningful the song is for her. She told the audience, “This song is for all survivors of abuse, particularly sexual abuse; it’s about reclaiming the body; it’s about being a meticulous bird.” Even without knowing that description, I already could feel the power in the song just from the feeling of the music, but hearing Thao speak about it and paying more attention to the lyrics heightened that feeling even more. The strength of the beat, the dynamics of the vocals, and lyrics like “I find the scene of the crime, I take my body back” and “oh my, oh my god, you didn’t know I got ferocious!” work together to create a song that is incredibly strong and powerful in its reclamation of agency.
On this song and others, Thao Nguyen was an incredibly dynamic frontman for the band. She was so clearly immersed in the music that I couldn’t help but be just as into it myself. She chatted with the audience between songs, bringing up things that we would relate to (like the fact that the original band members met at Richmond’s own Harrison St. Café!). When playing, she moved effortlessly between lead guitar, mandolin, and banjo while simultaneously killing it on lead vocals. Somehow, their music seamlessly blends these folk instruments (and sometimes even a stomp-clap folk rhythm) with synth and electronic instruments. The inclusion of several other vocalists gave the songs an even more powerful feel – though I counted just two other singers besides Thao, it felt like a large group onstage. I was fully immersed in the music throughout the whole show, which seemed to go by incredibly quickly. I can’t wait to see them play live again in the future.