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Turning Up the Heat on Americana

March 25th, 2013

Thao & the Get Down Stay Down/Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside – Bowery Ballroom – March 22

Thao & the Get Down Stay Down

Despite the still-cold-enough-to-be-winter temperatures outside The Bowery Ballroom on Friday night, the air-conditioning came on early inside the venue. There was doubt it would be a hot one. Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside started off things with their blast of badassery. Working off their new album, Untamed Beast, Ford, looking ready for anything in her short pink cocktail dress and vintage glasses, crooned songs like “Bad Boys” with purpose. This was old school rock and roll, like a soundtrack for dudes with cigarette packs rolled up in the sleeves of their white undershirts. “This song is about innuendo,” she explained before the sexually charged doo-wop of “Do Me Right,” but, really, the same could be said of pretty much every song in the set. The highlight was “They Told Me,” with the Sound Outside providing a sneering rock backdrop for Ford’s don’t-mess lyrics.

The room sufficiently heated, headliners Thao & the Get Down Stay Down came on next—frontwoman Thao Nguyen looking equally ready for anything in the soft T-shirt version of Ford’s outfit of almost exactly the same color. Although the Get Down Stay Down also have a new album, they began with their previous LP’s title track, “Know Better Learn Faster,” Nguyen’s guitar with an eerie pluck and the band quickly finding a mercury-raising groove. She started on guitar, but Nguyen was surrounded by an arsenal of instruments that she used throughout the night. As she went from guitar to banjo to mandolin to steel guitar and back again, bringing her unique sound to them all, it felt like the set was a challenge to make Americana music as steamy as possible. If that was the quest, mission accomplished: The crowd surrendered to the off-center funkiness, singing along to new songs like “City” and “We Don’t Call.”

Has a banjo ever looked or sounded as sexy as when Nguyen led the band through “Holy Roller”? Hers is a singular talent, creating a unique sound, but she’s not above letting her band take the spotlight. “The Day Long,” a slow cowboy groove punctuated by a dark, mysterious bass part, was a highlight. And although the set closed with new album’s title track, another banjo-fueled sing-along, the night wouldn’t have been complete without both excellent bands onstage together. The two forces combined for a pitch-perfect take on the Ronettes’ classic “Be My Baby,” with Ford and Nguyen sharing a microphone like bizarro twin sisters, and the thermometer in the room well into the red … or maybe even hot pink. Nguyen’s new album is called We the Common, but these two ladies were anything but. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Mina K