Cake Shop, New York City
No frills here. Slang Chickens bathed the cavernish Cake Shop in sleepy southern harmonies lifted by a charmingly confident frontman Friday night. The four-piece was stripped to the bone-–with three-part harmonies drifting across country guitar lines—but the group injected occasional shots of caffeine that kept it from dragging. Nothing awe-inspiring, but by the same token a solid set from a group worth checking out.
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Thao Nguyen is awesome. That’s really the best way I can think of to begin this piece. Unlike a lot of the songwriters I often feature here, Nguyen doesn’t have a decades-long body of work behind her, no loud trail of evidence which the majority of music fans have encountered in some form or another. She’s all of 24 years old (or thereabouts), started releasing records in 2005 (her new one, Know Better Learn Faster came out this month) and though she’s been playing guitar for most of her life, she’s basically in the early years of her career.
Nguyen’s free-spirited and confident stage manner, her deft guitar playing, her cool band (The Get Down Stay Down), and cute-indie-girl look all likely play a part in her growing popularity, but the real secret weapon she wields is her disarmingly unique vocal style—her voice and melodies are some of the freshest things you’re likely to hear this year.
In my opinion, Thao Nguyen has significant cross-generational appeal. Young folks of course are already taking to her music, but I also recommend her stuff to any Boomer or Gen X’er who is interested in finding a Millennial songwriter to really dig into. Seriously—the artist that Thao Nguyen most reminds me of is Laura Nyro. Not so much on the direct musical/lyrical tip, but I do get a Nyro-like vibe from Nguyen in the intangibles—the raw sincerity, confident singularity, and pure physical force of the work.
What was the first song you fell in love with, and what is your current relationship to the piece?
It was Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me”. I love it still, I think it is perfect. We covered it last year, in tribute.
Who is your favorite “unsung” artist or songwriter, someone who you feel never gets their due? Talk a little bit about him/her.
Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies—her voice and delivery are so moving—she has incredible warmth and richness and sadness in her tone, and at the same time a subtlety that is just as devastating.
Is there an artist, genre, author, filmmaker, etc. who/which has had a significant impact/influence on you, but that influence can’t be directly heard in your music?
Grace Paley—my favorite short story write—my college roommate introduced me. My love and admiration for Paley’s work has endlessly guided and motivated me in my lyric writing. She doesn’t do anything unless its necessary. And I named my touring company and a song after her story Goodbye and Good Luck.
Do you view songwriting as a calling, a gig, a hobby, other…?
I view songwriting as the thing I need and take for granted the most.
Name one contemporary song that encourages you about the future of songwriting/pop music.
The Avett Brothers’ “Will You Return”.
Check out the video below of Thao Nguyen with The Get Down Stay Down’s 2008 song “Bag of Hammers” to get a vibe, and visit thaomusic.com for information on their new album, Know Better Learn Faster, as well as lyrics and more.
It may not be for everyone, but if you are a fan of live music, in general, and U2, in particular, and you are not able to get to The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Sunday evening (8:30 p.m., Pacific Time; 4:30 a.m. in Paris; 12:30 p.m. in Tokyo), you can have the next best thing: watch the boys from Dublin, streamed live on YouTube. It is the first such streamed concert on YouTube and best of all . . . it’s free.
The Los Angeles Times has coverage here, indicating that, thanks to novel stage configuration based on the design of Los Angeles airport’s Flight Control Tower, seating capacity has been increased by 20%. It will be the largest attendance in the Rose Bowl since the 1994 World Cup.
Bowery Ballroom, New York City
Imaad Wasif is chock full of two things: Hair and love. In case you weren’t certain of the latter half of that combo, Wasif took the time to remind the crowd at Bowery Ballroom… after every song: “I love the city. I love being insane. I love being insanely in love.” Though Wasif was somewhat awkward while trying to make conversation with the crowd between songs, he was at home while performing his brand of classic rock. All of his songs, all of which he was quick to point out were “love songs,” were well-crafted and well-performed. Wasif was the star of the show, but would have been helped if he had a more animated supporting cast—his bassist and drummer seemed disinterested no matter how much Wasif thrashed about the stage. I’m not certain I really felt the love like Wasif, but perhaps if I find the man he awkwardly hugged at the end of his set, he could shed some light.
The Temper Trap
Ace Hotel, New York City
Superb guitar parts. So much so that at first I had trouble understanding singer Dougy Mandagi’s vocals—and I’m not talking about a bad audio mix nor a heavy accent, just why he was bothering at all. “They’d be better off as instrumental post-rock band,” I thought (then promptly scolded myself for using such a silly term.) Prescient, then, that their only request to the sound guy was “more vocals” (in the monitors)—it all started to make sense after a few songs when other band members started joining in with twisty-turny background vocals, each secondary line every bit as interesting as the lead if you listened closely enough. Godspeed, you Aussie hotshots.
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"With all the roughneck charm of a '40 pulp novel and much style to spare, I, The Jury is a good, popcorn-filling yarn.READ the article