Posted by: Cory | July 23, 2008

REVIEW: Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, The Instruction, Tune-Yards @ Skull Alley – 7/21

I frequently complain that most of the artists I love skip over Louisville and don’t view it as a strong scene for indie pop/rock. In large part, exists to try to change that image and to help promote our music scene, both local artists and to help make Louisville a destination for good music. This past Monday we took our first step towards bringing those things together. Recently, when thinking about who I would like to see in concert, one of my favorite artists, Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, came to mind. A few quick emails and lucky timing, resulted in Thao’s first ever Louisville appearance…and it was the kick-off show of her national tour.

Our good friends, The Instruction, opened the set at Skull Alley, an incredibly awesome new venue on E. Broadway which is very unremarkable on the outside, but really beautiful on the inside. By the time The Instruction went on, approximately 30 or so people had showed, and these guys did what they do best. The Instruction have been having an incredible year. Only together nearly a year, and as of yet without a final product of an album, The Instruction have been getting serious radio play on Louisville’s 91.9 WFPK, booking bigger and bigger shows (including an upcoming show with These United States and The Genius File). Although still in production, songs like “Hello Darling” and “Mayday” come off as the perfect product of years of playing together…not a first go at things. I look forward to so much more out of these guys & believe they will be Louisville’s next truly important band.

Second in line for the night, Montreal-based Merrill Garbus, better known as Tune-Yards, and best known for her role in Sister Suvi, put on an incredibly eccentric performance, using a little tenor ukelele and a lot of vocal play, looping various sounds of her voice. One particular loop she did a sort of beatbox, and kept it looping and it truly provided an incredible base beat for her to play on top of, and giving the crowd something to nod their heads to. Merrill’s loops created a sort of hypnotic tribal whirlwind of sounds topped off with her lyrics that would have walked hand-in-hand with some of Dylan’s more absurd masterpieces like Tombstone Blues, as she chirped out the lines “I’ve got news for you honey, I get pregnant with birds who sing better than you.” or the song based upon her puppet theatre show, The Fat Kid Opera. What’s more…she sells casette tapes at her shows (with a digital download, of course). I chatted with Merrill for a bit, and this chick was awesome. Not only did she have a unique coolness about her that it seems only Canadians can have (I mean really, selling cassette tapes?), but she was a really nice person & even offered me a place to stay for Montreal Pop Fest, which I incidentally might be going to this year (I was supposed to go last year). I also found a great interview online if you’d like a little more info on her.

Whether Thao hasn’t yet grasped for herself how great of a musician she is, or whether kids don’t frequently dance at her shows, she seemed more than a little surprised by the reaction of the audience to her for her first gig ever in Louisville (or anywhere in Kentucky for that matter). From the moment Merrill stepped off stage and Thao struck the first chord, virtually EVERYONE was dancing. In fact she commented on it more than once, saying “this is the first show of the tour, but I can already tell you guys are going to be the best dancers. She may have been mocking us (I enjoy dancing, but I never said I could do it well), but I don’t think so. Thao’s passion infused the room with a sense of energy all to uncommon at shows in Louisville. I was glad to hear another girl from the crowd say “this is so weird, nobody in Louisville dances at shows”, because I preach that constantly. Yet traditional hipster code for Louisville was off, because this show didn’t follow any of the normal guidelines. Perhaps there is an inverse correlation with alcohol…people don’t dance when alcohol is in the picture because they might spill it? Who knows, all I know is that the crowd, although small, was having a great time. Factor in very short notice and it being a Monday night, and I think the next time Thao comes to town we’re going to need a little bigger place.

As for the performance itself…Thao played everything we wanted to hear….Beat (my personal favorite), Swimming Pools, Bag of Hammers, Violet, Geography, etc…essentially we got the whole album, and we couldn’t get enough of it. On stage, Thao thrashed about like a school girl on too much caffeine, looking as cute as the slightly naive little girl you envision when listening to her lyrics like “and we splash our eyes full of chemicals just so there’s none left for little girls” or “we don’t dive, we cannonball”.  I frequently speak highly of the on-stage personalities of female singer-songwriters, but to date, Thao has far and away the best stage presence because she has a way of making everyone in the crowd fall a little in love with her.  As I looked around, both men and women stood in awe of Thao.  From high school kids to grad school graduates and beyond, Thao entranced all of us…

Another on of the best parts of the show had nothing to dowith the actual shw at all.  Because Skull Alley is still working on getting it’s Liquor License, they’re very strict on their no alcohol policy, so a lot of time was spent in parking lot behind the venue.  While I was presenting Thao and co. with the quintessential KY present (“Maker’s Mark”), they spoke about their tours of the past (she even remembered Nick’s brother for asking for an unusual autograph in Chicago last year), about how, only a few years ago she was plying venues where she was only intended as miscellaneous entertainment. She had mentioned that a few years ago, she had played upstairs at South Gate in Newport, and now she was headlining affairs and that it was so cool that at least the majority of people showing up to her shows were actually there to see her play.

I can only hope this is only the first of many shows that we’ll see from Thao in Louisville….and for those of you reading this I hope you all have better excuses if you’re going to miss it next time

For more photos,

The Instruction


Thao with the Get Down Stay Down



  1. I’d be upset about that ridiculously intense photo of me if my beard didn’t look sooo good.

  2. sounds like i missed out. the pics look awesome. keep them rolling in.

  3. This was an excellent concert! I had never heard Tune Yards and am now a BIG fan. The space was intimate and had a great sound, I’ll definitely visit Skull Alley again. Thanks for a great show!

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