Dawn Landes, Thao Nguyen @ Barden’s Boudoir, 27 January 2007

Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 17:12 | Category : Uncategorized
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As regular readers of this blog will know, a small baby at home means that my gig-going these days is limited, so I usually have to choose my trips carefully and well in advance. So far though, my record of getting great shows has been pretty good. This gig however was a bit of a last-minute decision, after a friend’s email reminded me on Friday. An interest in at least two of the artists and a close proximity to home led me to head over to Dalston on Sunday night to the third of Bardens Boudoir’s four Winter Warmer gigs.

It was a singer-songwriters night – four artists, all performing under their own names. We got there in time to catch the last two songs by Nic Dawson Kelly. I was enjoying it in a distracted kind of way – mainly his voice which sounded like David Thomas Broughton gone rock – until my friend whispered “Ocean Colour Scene” into my ear. That spoiled it for me a bit. Next up was Catherine Anne Davies, and after a couple of songs we retired to one of Bardens’ comfy corner sofas – it was just a bit too boring for me. Songs that didn’t grab in any way.

But the last two artists were very good. In reverse order; Dawn Landes. She was the ostensible headliner, but coming on stage just before 11pm on a Sunday night at a venue a bit off the beaten track for non-East Enders meant that she had a sparser crowd than she really deserved. My only previous knowledge of Landes was a couple of decent songs on a Boy Scout Recordings compilation I got free at the End of the Road Festival last year. She’s just released her new album Fireproof on Fargo records in this country and her set was mainly taken from this record, with a few covers and older songs thrown in for good measure.

She’s got a lovely clear voice, and well-crafted songs which are reminiscent of a less countrified Laura Cantrell. She seemed a little nervous and kept apologising for messing up songs, but she needn’t have, it’s not like people who go to gigs at Bardens are looking for super-slick performances. The fact that it was slightly rough around the edges only added to the charm. Dawn started with a beautiful solo cover of a Tom Waits song before being joined by her band consisting of a bass player and a drummer. She also managed the acoustic-to-electric elements of her recorded songs with good use of effects pedals. The set ended with a great whistle-along cover of Young Folks, which was even better than the her ‘bluegrass version’ which did the blog rounds a few months back. A fine performance then, and Fireproof is also well worth checking out.

Download: Dawn Landes – Picture Show
Download: Dawn Landes – Dig Me a Hole

I’m saving the best till last, because good though Dawn Landes was, for me, she was trumped on the night by the artist who preceded her – Thao Nguyen. It seems that the Virginian singer-songwriter has recently dropped her surname, probably because she figured that it was enough to have one difficult-to-pronounce name, rather than two (by the way, if you want to get her first name right, it rhymes with ‘ciao’ and you don’t pronounce the ‘h’). In any case, since her debut album in 2005, she’s hooked up with a band called The Get Down Stay Down but on this trip she’s only accompanied by her drummer Willis Thompson. The acoustic guitar and drums combo was a winning one, so much that I can’t see what a wider band could do to improve things. I could be wrong though.

Thao is one of these performers that it’s hard not to warm to. She seems totally at ease on stage and even apologises that she can’t chat as much as she’d like to because they’re trying to cram as many songs as possible into their half-hour slot. But not before confessing that she’s glad to be back among English speakers where her between-song “bullshitting” can actually be understood. So much for the chat, the music was great. She’s another artist with well-crafted songs, which are obviously informed by American folk music, but modern and bolshy enough to be taken up by label with the rep of Kill Rock Stars. She’s an energetic performer and an excellent guitar player, and any lack of technical expertise in the vocal stakes more than matched by the passion and sense of fun in her delivery.

Thao’s been called ‘Cat Power in cowboy boots’, which is not a bad description, but also particularly apposite because Chan Marshall was playing across town this very evening, peddling her new-look slow blues jams. Even though I heard good reports from that gig, I still know where I’d rather have been. For me, Thao’s a real find, and I was more than happy to part with a tenner for her debut album Like the Linen at the end of the show. I’d definitely see her again too – then I can maybe see if the band adds anything, or makes her sound even better.

Download: Thao Nguyen – Tallymarks
Download: Thao Nguyen – What About

The now surname-free Thao’s new album We Brave Bee Stings and All is out this week, but more on that later.

In the meantime you can buy Thao’s Like the Linen from cdbaby and …Bee Stings… from Rough Trade, where you can also get Fireproof.

4 Comments for “Dawn Landes, Thao Nguyen @ Barden’s Boudoir, 27 January 2007”

  1. 1last year's girl

    So glad you posted these! I read that “Dawn Landes picks her favourite songs” article on the Guardian website this morning, and was sufficiently intruiged to want to check her out. I’ve also heard a little Thao Nguyen recently and am sufficiently intruiged. Sounds like a great show anyway.

  2. 2Mr Rossy

    Hey great review !!! I was at this !!! I had to leave early to get the last train so i missed dawn landes…Thao Nguyen was great tho !!! Also i got a really nice veggie wrap thing from over the road…i think it was turkish !!

  3. 3The Daily Growl

    Ah, good stuff. Maybe one day we’ll bump into each other at a gig properly. Shame you had to miss Dawn Landes, but Bardens gigs are always late affairs. Fine for us Eastenders, but not so good for people from further away. Dalston is the home of good Turkish food. There’s also a good place right next to Bardens.

  4. 4Anonymous

    Thao is great. I am discovering her at this moment. She’s a more upbeat Laura Veirs. And… it’s 2008 (see entry title).

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