Thao & Mirah, T.T. the Bear’s, June 7

Most times when you go to shows you pretty much know what to expect. Once in a while, though, you get surprised and wonder (in your best David Byrne impression), “How did I get here?”

That was somewhat the case the other night at T.T. the Bear’s in Cambridge, where caught three acts that — if you stood back and determined the “Modern Acoustic genre range” — may have been slightly outside the circle. But it proved to be a fascinating auditory experience.

Actually, Thao & Mirah, a group made up of two superb singer-songwriters, was everything I hoped for. I’ve known of the high-energy Thao Nguyen and her band the Get Down Stay Down for some time. Mirah, from San Francisco, I am less familiar with. Together the pair, along with a stellar backing band of keys, viola, bass and drums, combined that same high energy with danceable beats and nice harmonies. The two are a blast to watch: Thao is constantly moving, whether she’s playing her guitar or beating on a tambourine. Mirah is all smiles and really gets into her vocals. The group showed its diversity and range by each playing multiple instruments while playing tunes off their debut album as well as their solo projects.

The acts that preceded them were interesting if not quite to my taste. First off was Alex Guy, a viola player who I would eventually realize was a player in Thao & Mirah’s band. She played her viola like a violin, plucking and bowing the strings and using loops to build her sound, to accompany her songs. She produced some beautiful sounds though her lyrics were lost in the mix.

A note about T.T’s here: I love the place. I spent a lot of my post-college time hanging in Cambridge clubs, including Jonathan Swifts (gone), Jacks (burned down) and T.T.’s. I specifically remember a truly smokin’ night with Barrence Whitfield and the Savages… but I digress. T.T.’s however is next door neighbors with the Middle East nightclubs. A quieter act at T.T.’s can get lost in the echoing bass from a more raucous band at the Middle East.

The next band up, BOBBY, is definitely a group I wouldn’t have gone to see but I’m glad I did. They were profiled on NPR two days before I saw them, and while NPR calls them “quiet but not ambient,” I beg to differ. Comprised of five musicians who met at Bennington College in Vermont, the band sounded to me like an ambient jam band. Three keyboards, a guitar, drums, and sometimes bass provided danceable beats while the male and female lead singers mouthed either words or wails into heavily echoed mikes. It sounded pretty interesting, but as songs… well I just couldn’t make out the lyrics. That might have been T.T.’s issue since I pretty much had trouble hearing lyrics all night.

To see my pics, click HERE

Here’s a video from a different show.

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