When ACL is in an anniversary season, it’s tempting for us to concentrate on booking the biggest artists we can find. That would deny, however, one of our core missions: to expose our audience to new artists. Of course, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down aren’t exactly new – the San Francisco-based act has been working for a decade. But Thao Nguyen and her intrepid band have begun to explode far past their underground origins, making it the perfect time to for us to invite them on the show for their debut taping.
After the brief, gospel-style open of “The Clap,” Thao and the band launched into “City,” a patented example of their patented funky folk rock. The group’s blend of groovy rhythms and Thao’s folk-influenced fingerpicking give the band a distinctive sound that truly makes it stand out from the pack, as “Cool Yourself,” “Beat” and “Every Body” easily proved. But she and her quintet hardly stick to one groove. The band also hopped jauntily through the jazzy piano pop of “The Feeling Kind,” complete with Dixieland trumpet solo, skipped energetically through the ska/soul hybrid “Swimming Pools,” moved through the crescendoing dynamics of the waltz “Age of Ice” and pounded through the percussion-heavy “Squareneck,” with Thao getting down and dirty on her lap steel guitar. Thao also demonstrated imaginative versatility with her instruments, playing her banjo like a guitar on the reggae-tinged rocker “Holy Roller” and her archtop guitar like a clawhammer banjo on the bluegrassy “Kindness Be Conceived.” The band ended the main set with the singalong folk pop of “We the Common,” a tribute to Thao’s volunteer work with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down encored with “Body,” another fine example of their patented unpredictable pop that included an audience participation section of handclapping, and “Bag of Hammers,” more of the same, enhanced with Thao’s tropical guitar lick. Thao’s natural exuberance and wide-ranging songwriting acumen made the show a joy to see and hear. We can’t wait for you to see it when it airs on PBS this fall.