Nguyen's 'Brave' New Whirl
"At first I thought it would be funny if we only played songs off the first record," said Thao Nguyen at Iota on Thursday night. But since this was a CD-release party for her second album, she concluded it might not have been all that humorous. If Nguyen and her band, the Get Down Stay Down, had neglected songs from the sparkling "We Brave Bee Stings and All," the near-capacity crowd would have been denied her very best stuff. Thankfully, Thao behaved herself.
Centered on Nguyen's propulsive, shimmy-shake folk riffs, "Beat (Health, Life and Fire)," "Swimming Pools," "Geography," "Feet Asleep," "Fear and Convenience" and "Bag of Hammers" were the highlights of a deliriously good set. If the Falls Church native's singular guitar style was the chassis, her voice provided the real combustion: Imbued with the same scratchy sensuality as Beth Orton's, Nguyen's singing contains a verve that is wholly her own. And with her personality -- equal parts beguiling songstress and imp -- she comes across as entirely uncalculated.
For its part, the GDSD (guitar, bass and drums) played with admirable restraint, adding only necessary coloring. Willis Thompson's drumming was particularly apt, as was the trio's slow-burn, indie rock-and-soul arrangement for Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold on Me." That Nguyen could step intimately inside such a formidable chestnut was almost as impressive as her tapestry of original songs. All of which means she's sure to be shimmying on much bigger stages before too long.
-- Patrick Foster