Noise Pop 2013 - Thao and the Get Down Stay Down @ GAMH 3/2/13 - photo by Nic Buron
Noise Pop 2013 – Thao and the Get Down Stay Down @ GAMH 3/2/13 – photo by Nic Buron

San Francisco’s semi-soloist, Kacey Johansing was joined by a quartet of jazz minded players. The arrangements had a dreamlike quality that was rooted in the ground by Johansing’s confident earthen pipes. The arrangement was jazzy but the songwriting felted rooted in folk music. They created a fresh juxtaposition that felt like a natural sonic marriage. There was no gimmick to be found here.

Before the Brave are a relatively new article. With a solid EP under their belt and a strong performance, I think we will be hearing more from this San Francisco quintet. Their sound is that of a dramatic intonation of folk music, the likes of which is currently flourishing. That being said their songwriting and musicianship is more than up to muster.  One of their winning qualities was that they were endearingly excited to be on stage. In a city where it often feels like “too cool” rules, their genuineness was like a fresh gulp of oxygen. As their set ended the crowd response was like a flash flood, and they earned it.

Portland’s Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside brought to town a new rough and tumble surf rock sound, which dirtied up the bubblier sound of their first record. Beyond just rocking harder they seemed to have taken on more of an edge in their musical worldview. There was the brassy onstage declaration that all music should be “noise pop, or noisy pop” and the punk howling on the aptly titled new tune “Rockability”. They only played one song from their excellent debut Dirty Radio, which leaves this fan hoping they haven’t totally eschewed their past.

Warning: For those looking to be adorned with the prize for the best set of 2013, you need not apply. It has been called early and the distinction goes to Thao & the Get Down Stay Down.

Thao was backed by an ensemble that at times numbered eight, and was potent almost to the point of exhaustion. I have seen few performers as compelling as Thao, and on this night she was unequaled. Thao has always been an exhilarating presence onstage and has persistently evolved over the years, but this set felt like an exultation of that evolution.  She has reached a summit and is toasting her journey.

The highlights were in no short supply. The mercury cracked the glass as Thao and her posse stomped their way through “Squareneck” from the Thao and Mirah record. The titular front woman played the slide guitar less like a country session player and more like a hungry DJ battling their way through a DMC Championship. Thao further whipped the audience into elation while later punctuating a song by rapping two verses of Ludacris’s wildly innuendo ridden 2000 hit “What’s Your Fantasy”.

The big finale was an energetic but deeply emotional rendering of the song “We the Common (For Valerie Bolden)”. Thao briefly talked about working with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, which not only inspired the song, but the whole album. As Thao sang the final words to the song her intonation brought to it a resonant call to action – “Oh how we the common must cry”.

There was so much momentum after the set that they would have needed to drag the capacity crowd out of there kicking and screaming without an encore. The house exploded as the ensemble made it’s way on to the staged. They were joined for the rollicking encore of Learn Better Faster‘s “Body” by Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs). The encore was a dizzy bit of fun, that capped a stirring night. The journey has ended and we’re at the summit looking upon what we left in our wake.

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