Published Mar 28, 2016After putting out four albums over the course of eight years, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down turned a corner with their most recent LP, A Man Alive. It was produced by Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs), and deserves the praise it's been getting. Garbus's joyous freak-pop touch is all over the record, and that feeling seems to have bled over into their live show.
Taking the stage after the plodding, nerdy '90s alternative worship of Car Seat Headrest — who brought decent energy but little finesse to their impression of Cloud Nothings covering Weezer and Pavement — Thao Nguyen and her coterie of ne'er-do-wells gave the sold-out Cobalt crowd everything for which they could have hoped. Nguyen's vocals were a little uneven in the mix early on, apparently battling feedback for the first third of the set, but her pipes weren't about to let anything like that get to them.
Nguyen was captivating up front, reminiscent of St. Vincent when she played guitar, with a tUnE-yArDs folk meets Talking Heads art-rock sound surrounding her. The crowd returned her energy, gleefully fulfilling her professed dream of crowd participation as she split the room in half to help her sing the chorus for "Fool Forever" — a moment she likened to when Trudeau recently met Obama for an international lovefest. Freed from her selection of stringed instruments, Nguyen simply sang that particular song, skulking and lunging around stage, claiming to have much fun that she wished we were all on a cruise ship together. People lost their shit for "Age of Ice" too, with one girl howling ecstatically to punctuate the chorus. Nguyen would later credit the room for making it feel like a Saturday, rather than the Sunday it was.
Her band was smoking hot throughout the show, comfortable enough with the material that they hit all the marks with obvious swing, in spite of the unconventional arrangements. Thao frequently turned to thrash out with drummer Jason Slota, who perfectly propelled the rhythm alongside bassist Adam Thompson. Not to be outdone, Charlie Glenn delivered the right amount of flash on guitar, while Johanna Kunin synergistically filled in all the backing vocals and rocked the keys. In a drier climate, any one of them could have started a fire by sheer will.
The most poignant moment of the set had to be their rendition of "Meticulous Bird." Nguyen said the song about getting mad and staying mad meant a lot to her. Considering the line "I know the science of the fiction / of the conviction of the henchmen," the ode to survivors of sexual assault was incredibly potent in the wake of the debacle that was the Jian Ghomeshi trial. Thao put all of herself into that one, knocking the mic stand over as she rapped to take her body back.
Ever honest, Nguyen called herself out on the fake encore pause while the band headed to the wings. Rejoining her onstage, the Get Down Stay Down capped off their set with a respectably faithful cover of Missy Elliott's classic "Get Ur Freak On," which showcased her hip-hop influence, before closing with the title track from 2013's We the Common.
All of her songs took on an anthemic quality live; it was clearly a show made for a bigger stage, condensed to a small venue. It felt like being inside a bottle of pop in the process of being shaken up, euphoria with a sugar high.