With eyelids pressed tightly together, Thao Nguyen crooned into the microphone while her lips trembled underneath her strong voice. With her left hand, she placed delicate, small fingers across the neck of her guitar, while her right hand slammed a drumstick across the strings. She sounded great and she looked great. Nguyen tapped her cowboy boots on the floor; her legs were wrapped in bright blue jean while a cut-up vintage t-shirt slipped down her shoulders. Immersed in her music, she drew the crowd into her own personal whirlwind and from the first note, the whole audience remained entranced.
On August 1, Thao and The Get Down Stay Down played at Phoenix Grille where it entertained devoted fans and new listeners alike. Backed by Adam Thompson on bass, Willis Thompson on drums (no relation to the bassist) and Frank Stewart mixing it all live, Thao gave us her specialty, a heartfelt strain of indie-rock. The songs ranged from the rambunctious, like “Beat (Health Fire Life),” replete with handclaps, to the simmering, like “Violet.”
There’s a certain weakness in her lyrics. “Oh no Violet, don’t you go,” she begs in “Beat,” while in “Big Kid Table” she insists that “You are strong, strong, stronger than me.” However, while she betrayed a certain vulnerability in her performance, it was always scaffolded by the resonating strength of her charm.
“I’m sorry I’m so verbal,” Thao said softly at one point, chastising herself for rambling. “I guess it’s ‘cause I’m not on the stage. I’m down here, with you guys…I feel like we’re just hanging out.”
Truly, the night had a genuine and affable atmosphere, with no pretenses—much like Thao herself. After the show, she happily obliged her doting fans with autographs and pictures, going past the typical thank you’s. While her music radiates earnestness, Thao doesn’t take herself too seriously, which is a refreshing combination in our generation of cynicism.
Before Thao and company graced the stage, a San Diego band called Da Bears warmed up the crowd with high-energy eclecticism, rife with 1960s nostalgia and lo-fi aesthetics. One critic described its music as “fuzzy/gauzy California-style indie-rock,” and though that’s a label with a lot of qualifiers, it’s easy to apply to a fresh sound that’s hard to initially pin down. This particular night, each member of this five-piece ensemble wore a brown, fringed vest embroidered with “Da Bears” insignia—a uniform that matches its laidback, but focused approach.
“It’s really neat that you guys have cool shows like this on your campus,” said Solomon in a break between songs. In response, the disaffected crowd mumbled and looked at its shoes. He’s right, though—if it weren’t for Acrobatics Everyday, there would be very little for a hip Irvine kid to look forward to each month.