Exploding with feral energy Thao and the Get Down Stay Down commanded the stage of the Regent Theater last Friday April 29 playing to an enthusiastic crowd. Seratones and the always excellent Kera and the Lesbians opened the show. “Oh my God/Oh my God/You didn't know I get ferocious,” Thao sang out to a crowd who could see wildness in her eye and hear it in her growl. The band inhabited the Regent like the “meticulous bird of prey” invoked on their latest album A Man Alive. The Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles is where brand new “artist loft” apartments rub up against Skid Row, where going to a show can still feel seedy if your street parking is more than a block or two away. Inside, the Regent is gritty beautiful; a little raw, off and ragged in a way that leaves you slightly on edge. The setting proved fitting for an act who looks all business, but commands the stage with equal parts joy and ruthlessness. The guitar stand held at least half a dozen instruments, including a mandolin and banjo. When Thao picked up the banjo for “Holy Roller” the crowd erupted with applause. The banjo intro is shades of the Eve (featuring Gwen Stefani) hit “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” a kinship with hip hop that continued through the set.
Material from the new album A Man Alive is more beat and bass-driven than Thao's previous work. It reflects the influence of her friend and album producer Merrill Garbus (Tune Yards) in its percussive vocals and use of looping and manipulated sounds. The of vulnerability of lyrics create a counterpoint with the dancable beat-driven music. “Millionaire,” from the new album is about Thao's relationship with the father who left her family. “Shatter what you will not carry/Smash what you won’t bear/But daddy I broke in a million pieces/That makes you a millionaire.” The band brought the percussive sensibility to older songs as well. “Beat” from the album We Brave Bee Stings and All summoned Ronettes wall of sound drumming. On the last song of the set “Meticulous Bird,” “...I find the scene of the crime/I take my body back,” Thao sings rhythmically over drums and synth, not rapping, but singing in a way related to and influenced by hip hop.
As if to connect the connect the dots or complete the breadcrumb trail they had left in the main part of the set, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down covered Missy Elliott’s “Get Your Freak On” and the audience ate it up. The contrast of an indie rock act taking on a well-known hip hop favorite was all success. After that the band took it down a few notches with “Bat Your Eye” on banjo to play the audience out.
Seratones, playing in the second set, took the stage like it was their hostage, as if they had started the night dead center of Skid Row then climbed their way to the Regent taking in every crag and crack of pavement and human desolation, then forced that grit and heartbreak right back into the music. Front woman A.J. Haynes sang low strong, strong and sexy, like a one woman gospel choir with Bonnie Raitt in one ear, Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes in the other and Tina Turner taunting her from the wings. The band from Shreveport, Louisiana playing in support of their new album Get Gone (out now on Fat Possum) was heavy guitar and all hard rock metalhead energy. Haynes was bouncing, dancing, charging Southern blues rock, using her voice at times like a precision tool and other times like a revenge fantasy on songs like “Kingdom Come.” LA favorites, the outstanding Kera and Lesbians opened the show.