Thao Nguyen & The Get Down Stay Down were upbeat and winning when they hit New York City.Playing The Knitting Factory’s Tap Bar (QRO venue review) on February 4th, the alt-country singer/songwriter and her band delivered a sweet, rollicking set. Fresh off the release of We Brave Bee Stings And All (QRO review) Nguyen and her crew were excited, and infected the big-for-a-Monday-night crowd with it.
Nguyen’s bubbly, bright persona took center stage right from the get-go. She had to ask the sitting-on-the-floor crowd to stand up, but even though she shouldn’t have had to – when was the last time a New York crowd was too lazy to even stand up? – she still apologized for the request. She joked about drummer Willis Thompson needing all these level changes, “like a diva”, the ski-cap & muscle shirt bassist Andrew Thompson had worn on-stage in Boston, “Devendra Banhart meets Arnold Schwarzenegger”, and that the two (unrelated) Thompson’s were brothers – and guitarist Frank Stewart was their dad.
But the piste-de-résistance was Nguyen’s description of the radio spot they’d done earlier in the day, where they’d been slotted next to the legendary songstress Cat Power (an artist Nguyen has been more than once compared to…). “Which is cool, that’s fine, it’s just – we were unprepared … She’s well beyond our scope of possibility and competition, you know what I mean?” When someone in the crowd shouted that Nguyen & GDSD were better, she replied, “Oh my goodness, thank you so much. I hope she didn’t come, but she probably didn’t. She’s probably not here right now, so thank you.”
Then, Nguyen added sweetly, “Did you see what she was wearing? Do you think I was wearing a better outfit?” The fan couldn’t say (it was radio, after all…), but Nguyen couldn’t help but later tell the crowd how great Cat Power looked, “She had a very nice, simple, v-neck; it was basic white, but she wore it very well.” It was also a hoodie, as Andrew Thompson reminded Nguyen, to which she replied that that was why she changed out of a hoodie. She even told the crowd how much better Cat Power’s shoes were, as they “Were from Portugal, and mine were from K-Mart – not even Wal-Mart, but ‘The Big K’…”
Luckily, Nguyen’s music not only holds up against all that cute self-doubt, but even fits with it and her personality, maybe nowhere better than on “Big Kid’s Table”. The second song of the night, after an unfamiliar country-time rollick piece, the number is so winning that you can’t help but smile at her worries about being “a small kid at the big kid table.” All of the songs Nguyen & The Get Down Stay Down played had a similar sweet sheen, whether it was the twang of girl-power with “Beat (Health, Life and Fire)”, the catchy rhythms of single “Bag of Hammers”, or the jubilee on “Swimming Pools”. Even sadder songs, like the wistful “Geography” and “Feet Asleep” saw their wry turned up, and likewise with the new “Tally Marks”. But perhaps nowhere was that mood better received than at the end, as “Violet” finally matched its cuteness, “Travel” got a wonderful drive, and “Fear and Convenience” was a relaxed finisher.
Thao Nguyen & The Get Down Stay Down playing “Travel” live @ The Knitting Factory (Tap Bar), New York, NY:
Set to soon go on tour with Xiu Xiu (QRO album review), Nguyen’s self-doubt could feel out of place or even forced, but instead it just makes you like her more, like that little cousin going off to school for the first time, whether it’s kindergarten or college. She and The Get Down Stay Down have a sweet sound that they shouldn’t feel nervous about at all.