Thao Nguyen and her backing duo The Get Down Stay Down were in one of many places they can call “home” when they took the stage at The Canal Club in Richmond, Virginia on Saturday, November 7. Drummer Willis Thompson and bassist Adam Thompson (no relation) did their time living in Richmond, while Willis and Nguyen both attended the College of William and Mary right down the road. And it didn’t hurt that the opening band on the whole tour has been David Shultz and the Skyline, one of Richmond’s current kings of the local music scene.
The downstairs lounge of the Canal Club was packed with a mix of friends and family alongside the growing legion of diehard fans Nguyen and her band have mustered with the help of two full-length releases on Kill Rock Stars Records. The current tour is in support of the band’s latest release, Know Better Learn Faster.
Portland Cello Project — whose name indicates exactly how they sound — started the show, swapping spots in the lineup with David Shultz, since it was his hometown crowd. PCP played a mix of classical music, video game theme songs, and contemporary pop music. This means Super Mario Bros. and Britney Spears, but performed entirely on cello with Willis Thompson occasionally backing on drums. PCP has been holding a competition on this tour to see what cities could best sing along to their rendition of Outkast’s “Hey Ya.” Adam Thompson was brought onstage in order to judge using the “fair and balanced” Pitchfork.com rating scale; Richmond scored a 7.3. All of the scores can be found on the PCP website.
David Shultz and the Skyline took the stage to a rowdy hometown crowd. The Skyline are a folky, rock-country group that soaked up the energy from the crowd, amplified it, and tossed it right back. It was the last night of the tour for the Skyline, as Shultz would continue on solo from there, and they played like it was their last show ever. It was the perfect warm up for Thao.
Before Thao and her band took the stage the opening track from Know Better Learn Faster played ominously over the PA. This song, “The Clap”, is the launching-off point for the intensified, ferocious direction Thao took on the new album, and it works just as well to set the tone live.
She took the stage with a plastic cup full of whiskey and a fire in her heart that set the whole place up. The crowd was on its feet dancing, clapping, and shouting along. Sometimes this was a problem during more mellow songs like “The Give” where the band was joined by members of PCP for a heartfelt rendition of what is already one of the most heartbreaking songs Thao has written, but somebody still felt the need to shout inebriated responses to the lyrics.
As is often the case with Thao’s performances the stage grew more and more crowded with friends and members from the other bands aiding in clapping, singing, and turning everything in sight into a percussion instrument. This culminated with all three bands and many of their friends sharing the stage in the very end, which really sums up the experience of Thao and her music and seeing the two together live: it’s a big celebration, and everyone is invited. If you can’t catch Thao with The Get Down Stay Down live then picking up Know Better Learn Faster is the next best thing. The album comes about as close to capturing the live vibe as a studio album can.
Thao and her band, along with David Shultz and the Portland Cello Project, trekked through the Southwest and wrapped up the current tour in San Francisco on November 21 at The Independent.