Photos By Miranda Hontz, Words By Leon Hontz
The New Pornographers made their welcome return to D.C. at the 9:30 club Friday evening, bringing along hard charging Thao & The Get Down Stay Down.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down charged onto the stage and delivered a pulsing set that was steeped in attitude and energy. Thao Nguyen is a hell of a performer with an electric enthusiasm that seems to resonate through her fellow band mates, arcing down to the crowd and charging the venue from floor to ceiling. From her soulful voice to her impressive guitar/mandolin/banjo work, Thao is a talented and versatile musician. With her legs kicking, she seems to command your feet to dance to her endlessly boogieable music through a set that builds and builds. I have to confess, I would have been fine if Thao kept playing through the evening, she was that good. The Falls Church native’s studio sound is of tremendous fun and quality, but until you see Thao & The Get Down Stay Down live you won’t be able to fully appreciate the talent and joyful verve that are on display when the band performs. She also managed to incorporate some Ludacris rhymes into one of her songs, and who doesn’t love a little Luda?
The New Pornographers didn’t break into any Ludacris during their songs, but I’ll let that slide. After all, The New Pornographers can do whatever the hell they want (or don’t want) to do at this point. The band seems to be touring endlessly to promote the release/celebrate the success of their album Brill Bruisers, and their live performances speak to a universally together band. Their music is extremely polished, their show is well paced, and the band flexes its muscle as masters of the build with songs reaching lofty height after lofty height. I also appreciate the band’s ability to attain the ethereal in much of their music, possessing an element of the macroscopic as if looking down upon mankind and all of its shared experiences. This results in a sound that effortlessly drifts through a variety of emotions and is all together humanizing; songs can be joyful, melancholy, erratic, or ponderous at different times and with equal measure without falling flat. Their show captures this element seamlessly and is perhaps the most difficult quality to translate live.
A difficulty that I imagine a band touring as aggressively as The New Pornographers encounters is maintaining their energy and enthusiasm performance after performance. If you are seeing the band for the first time during this tour, you are going to have a great time without question. However, if you caught them in DC last year or in Baltimore in February you received a fairly comparable show. I also can’t help but suspect that the near full year of touring has been physically draining. This is evidenced in the contrast between the unbridled energy of the Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s set and the noticeably less dynamic performance that The New Pornographers gave. Simply put, at times it felt like they were going through the motions. For those who want to go see their favorite songs live, The New Pornographers will not disappoint. But for those like me who also crave the creative dynamism that is intrinsic to live musical performances, you may leave a bit wanting.
But hell, when you get to see a band as talented and prolific as The New Pornographers play live from their incredible catalog of music what else can you ask for? Not to mention that Thao & The Get Down Stay Down provided more than enough on the energy side of the equation to ultimately yield a tremendous evening of music. Do yourself a favor and catch these acts (if you haven’t already damn it) on their tour which runs through the rest of the summer.