Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, Portland Cello Project, David Schultz & the Skyline | Empty Bottle | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, Portland Cello Project, David Schultz & the Skyline Recommended Early Warnings (Music) Soundboard Critics' Picks

When: Fri., Oct. 30, 10 p.m. 2009

THAO NGUYEN and her band have always made pretty upbeat music, but the new Know Better Learn Faster (Kill Rock Stars) is even more playful and extroverted—Nguyen pushes her parched, soulful drawl into novel settings, like the ebullient, horn-stoked strut of “Cool Yourself” and the supercatchy Brill Building sass of “When We Swam.” The only song that really sounds dark is the brief first track, “The Clap,” a sort of mournful field holler (“If this is how you want it / OK, OK”) that’s just crowd vocals, foot stomps, and hand claps. Throughout the album, though, the lyrics belie the music’s sunny tone. On “Body” Nguyen demands “What am I, just a body in your bed?,” and on the title track she tangles with the muddled emotions of a relationship that’s well past the honeymoon phase: “I disarm you in the morning / But I was up in arms all night.” Inventive arrangements by the Get Down Stay Down (aka drummer Willis Thompson and bassist-keyboardist Adam Thompson—no relation) get an extra boost from Tucker Martine’s lean, punchy production and the contributions of a slew of guests—nimble whistling from Andrew Bird, backing vocals from Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards—but Nguyen’s singing is so confident, flexible, and expressive I think I’d be fine listening to her a cappella. Openers the Portland Cello Project, whose recent The Thao & Justin Power Sessions (Kill Rock Stars) features collaborations with Nguyen, will lend members to the Get Down Stay Down for parts of this set; David Schultz & the Skyline play first. —Peter Margasak

Price: $13, limited $10 tickets

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