Thao: “Beat (Health, Life, and Fire)”
The first time I heard Thao’s 2008 breakthrough album, We Brave Bee Stings and All, it was immediately apparent that this was a distinctly unique new voice on the indie music scene. While sharing elements in common with performers like Cat Power and Joanna Newsom, Thao’s voice and style are all her own. Amid the catchy melodies, she clearly approaches the music differently, hearing each melody and expressing it in a quirky yet accessible fashion.
Seeing her live last week at Neumo’s in Seattle (with opener Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside) solidified my idea of her as unique, but at the same time expanded my perception of her. She’s not only quirky, she’s also (a) an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist; (b) extremely funky; (c) a great band leader/front person; and (d) a volcanic stage presence. She went from sweetly singing a tune one moment to thrashing all over the stage and ripping out a screaming slide solo on a lap steel guitar the next. Seeing her get lost in her performance like that was great — she’s clearly committed to her shows, and given how she also expertly handled mandolin and banjo, she’s obviously got some chops, as they say. Her band, The Get Down Stay Down, did an equally excellent job of backing her and supplying some funky stomp to many of the songs off her recently released album, We the Common.
The show inspired me to feature her on Reselect this week, and while I wholeheartedly recommend her last two albums, I opted to go back to that first album (technically second, but her first one isn’t widely available). The leadoff track, “Beat (Health, Life, and Fire),” does a fine job of showcasing everything that’s so good about her — her sense of rhythm, melody, and offbeat vocal phrasings. It got her off on the right foot, and she’s maintained that balance in the few years since — it will be very interesting to watch where she takes it in the years to come.