I don't write about a lot of shows I go to, not even most of them. There are few that inspire so many comments, thoughts, deconstructions and superlatives. The strange, thrilling, monstrous and glorious crossover tour of Thao and Mirah is certainly in that elite.
Let's get the venue and opener out of the way first. The Bootleg Theatre is a small, intimate place where every spot is close to the stage. Although the place isn't built for acoustic splendor, what with it being a brick wall and plywood, it won't bother you. Another nice thing is that it makes separation between the performer and the audience nearly impossible. One moment you're standing around, waiting for the show to begin and then hey - those people to your right go on stage because they turn out to be the opening band.
The Sweet Hurt, other than being cleverly named, is a completely pleasant band. They're a sleepy time folk rock band with smooth vocals and slide guitar. Their set was unfortunately interrupted by that one guy in the back yelling "Swimming Pools!" at the wrong band, all awkward and embarrassing, shaming us all. Thanks for paying attention, guy in the back.
Ten minutes after the sweet stopped hurting, Thao and Mirah came on and stomped and clapped to Know Better Learn Faster opener, "The Clap." It sounds different, maybe even awkward, without the vast echo, audience participation, or zombie sing-a-long choir as on the studio version, but it set the tone for the night. Powering through the abrupt full body opener of a song, they let you know you were in for a series of fearless performances.
A great concert is one that is moving to listen to and watch. Watching Thao and Mirah, two of my favorites whom I've never had the pleasure of seeing live, was something to behold. I'll get to the music at first, but what really jumps out at you during this show is their stage presence and performance. Thao and Mirah and the Most of All is full of power, fury, and righteous funk.
Thao is a bad ass spark plug of a performer, all full-body rocking and hair flying everywhere as she jams on that acoustic electric. It is the kind of fearless submersion into music that infects the audience and you can't help but feel the bass heavy beat and powerful song writing. It was hard to believe that her first album was almost all singer-songwriter style music. Mirah, on the other hand, has an amazing voice that you can only truly appreciate seeing the squinty scowl and self-conducting she does as she puts the entirety of her soul into singing. It wasn't until I followed her energy and compulsive hand movements that I grasped the delicacy and straight up difficulty of her melodies.
Musically, the contrast between the two makes it a delicious meal for your inner cochlea. Thao rocks out and you feel the machine gun drums in your rib cage. Her performance is, all at once, energetic, playful, emotionally moving, and sick as hell. I don't normally use phrases like "sick as hell," but that's the only way my brain will allow to describe her style of rock out. Mirah brings it back down, and to a dark place, with almost sinister strings bleeding out songs. When Mirah lets loose and belts out a powerful surge of voice, it is an amazing thing. You'll never enjoy the sound of someone yelling so much.
Did I mention the rest of the band? They are a talented set of multi-instrumentalists. Both of their catalogs feature a bunch of instruments, but some replacements of trumpets with oboes and keyboards and violins revitalize old favorites. But the absolute best moments of the night are the collaborations. When Thao lends a hand on a slightly up tempo and supremely beautiful version of "We're Both So Sorry," or when Mirah sings a verse on "Bag of Hammers," your fanbrain will tingle and the top of your skull will open.
What makes this show work, and work so damn well, is that if you know both of these artists it will be the closest thing you will ever get to seeing the Justice League in real life. Because this is that crazy and epic of a crossover. It is two talented, shining stars joining forces. It is two different worlds of magical music, distinct, far apart, and complementary. It is Batman and Superman hangin' out on a satellite.
One too many comic book references, as per usual. The point is, this show is a rarity. It works best if you're a fan of both, but whether you only know one or both, it is hard to deny the sheer talent going on here. It is hard to not enjoy the songwriting craft, the stage presence, the witty banter and the infectious glee and heavy catharsis. Basically?
This show was so good, you guys.