The one thing more dangerous than the “supergroup” is the “super star collaboration.” We’ve seen a lot of them lately, and for every great one like Bjork & The Dirty Projectors or Kimya Dawson & Aesop Rock, there are 100 Jay-Z & R. Kelly’s floating out there. On a warm Thursday Night, I ventured to the Tenderloin to see which side of the coin this Thao & Mirah project fell on.
Led To Sea is the alias of L. Alex Guy. I opted not to research her at all before the show, so I had no idea what to expect. I ended up walking in on an amazingly gifted viola player that did a short and sweet set of songs that were simply vocals and viola. It was high energy, and really fascinating. I generally don’t enjoy bowed instruments that much, but he playing was fantastic. It was layered, and intense. She injected a little bit of humor with her technique and sense of experimentation, including introducing a song as the “hypothetical story of Jon Bon Jovi’s son as a sailor traveling around the world with his lover.” (Forgive me if I botched it. It was a long and silly introduction, and I’m trying to recite it by memory) I’d love to see this woman play a full length set.
BOBBY were our next stop for the evening. This 6 piece band played a very lush & pretty version of shoegaze meets late 90’s trip hop. Lead vocalist Molly Sarle was a joy to watch. She moved along to the music continuously, keeping a smile on her face and letting the mellow layers take over. The band played very proficiently, but I couldn’t help but feel that they were still a trying to find themselves. The songs all had a lot of great elements, and even managed to sneak some noise and chaos into the mix of smooth, chill out music, but often times they seemed to lose direction. They reminded me alot of the first time that I saw The Dirty Projectors- a lot of good ideas that haven’t been fully realized. It took Dirty Projectors about a year them to “find themselves,” and I think BOBBY, if they keep up with it, will become one of the most innovative bands out there.
Thao & Mirah came out, most unexpectedly, to the thunderous sound of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” The whole band seemed to enjoy dancing to the song so much while getting their instruments on and ready for the show, that I noticed Mirah let out a very brief pout when the track ended and the show started. Of course, the thunder of the pre-recorded Who was quickly muted when they drove head first into an especially intense reading of “Rubies and Rocks” from the recently released record Thao & Mirah. For two performers that are often most associated with the folk music banner, this show was especially heavy.
They focused heavily on the Thao & Mirah record, only very rarely playing tracks from each other’s solo works. The back up band consisted of Led To Sea’s Guy, and three other members that I couldn’t not make out the names of, but they were amazing. The drummer managed to pull of a lot of the unusual rhythms that Thao seems to love to write in, a gentleman that occasionally appeared to bow his xylophone (yes, he played the xylophone with a bow), which should have been the weirdest instrument on stage, but no. The bassist had a cray device that I could only dub a Wii-Theremin. It was a synthesizer that she played with a Wii Remote, and not only did it look cool, it sounded amazing!
As for the band co-leaders, Mirah was great. Her voice is beautiful she has excellent energy, she plays well, and she knows how to work a crowd. In almost any situation, she would be the focal point of the room. It’s a shame that she had to contend with a presence like Thao Nguyen. You simply cannot take your eyes off this woman as she performs. Where Mirah is merely energetic, Thao is a primal, emotive beast. Even when she was simply providing hand extra support on the hi hat, she did it with such intensity that you couldn’t take your eyes off of her. Everything she does on stage looks like she’s performing as if it were the last thing she will ever do.
As for the collaborative element, these two voices blended together quite nicely, and you could tell that these women were true friends, and, in reality, everyone on stage seemed to adore each other. One of my favorite moments of the set was a piece where the only percussion was Mirah and the drummer doing the “Clapping Game.”
The show ended with a rousing and anthemic version of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s “Bag Of Hammers” which turned into a group sing-a-long from the entire room that seemed unexpected to everyone involved. The set was a delirious and “happy making” if I can use the phrase.
The band asked attendees to donate to SF Women Against Rape. I believe you should, too!