Thao Is a Force to Be Reckoned with at Music Hall of Williamsburg
March 31, 2022
Thao - Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 30, 2022
Music Hall of Williamsburg was aglow with love and a range of honest emotions on Wednesday night. Becca Mancari, who was overflowing with enthusiasm and joy to be playing in New York City, opened the show. She used her entire body with each strum of the guitar and likewise put her whole self into songs drawn from her life’s experiences. The band crackled on songs like “Hunter,” each section punctuated by an ecstatic woo! from Mancari. In between, she colored the set with personal bits and stories—exclaiming, “I love being gay” after her coming-out story, “First Time,” a tale of dropping everything to move to Nashville, Tenn., leading into “Golden,” and “That song was about my dog,” after “Lonely Boy,” off her 2020 release, The Greatest Part. The set gained strength as it went on, even as the volume and tempo of the material dropped.
The stage was set for Thao Nguyen, currently performing simply as Thao, clearly needing nothing more than that judging from the chorus of squeals she received upon taking the stage, just a few seconds after her band was in place. She opened with “Departure,” from 2016’s A Man Alive, on mandolin, dense sounds interspersed with silence, a herky-jerky style that matches her energy perfectly. The set flowed with older material and songs off her latest release, Temple, which came out two years ago but is still the “new stuff,” never having been taken out on the road as originally planned for May 2020. Thao and her band—including Mikaela Grace on bass and Alex Guy on keyboards and violin—were bedazzled in sequins that reflected random disco-ball patterns around the room.
Thao rotated through instruments, showing off skills on guitar on “Phenom” and on banjo on “Holy Roller,” the staccato plunk providing the right vibe as the crowd sang along. She exclaimed, “I missed New York City so much” before launching into Temple’s title track, singing, “I lost my city in the light of day” over an earworm riff, Guy’s violin adding drama to the fun. The set’s mood mixed anger and jubilance, dark funk and passionate vocals interleaved with pure anthemic ecstasy, Thao giving it her all regardless of the emotion. A new song had her talk-singing, “How do I get free when nobody, baby, wants it more than me?” with minor-key guitar twirls and a cosmic violin solo that mixed anger and joy like they were the same feeling.
The set gained a more personal flavor as it went on, “Marrow,” a song for her wife, asking, “Will you marry me still?” and later “Meticulous Bird,” in “solidarity for victims of sexual violence.” In between, she added drums and keyboards to the list of instruments played, riled up the willing audience into a sing-along and ripped an impressive guitar solo or two, like the blues-melter on “Guts.” For the encore, Thao returned solo, reaching back to the beginning of her career with “Feet Asleep,” before the band returned for a triumphant ending with “Age of Ice,” the headliner appropriately singing, “I remember you with a feeling or two.” —A. Stein | @Neddyo
Photo courtesy of @SashaSeesShows