Mirah tuning her guitar before playing
I was afraid I was going to miss the show. Thao and Mirah’s album dropped in late April and they have been touring with Seattle band Led to Sea in support of the album. The West coast leg of their tour, the “Tour of Pleasant Surprises” as both bands described it, culminated with a jubilant show at Northern in Olympia. The show was a homecoming of sorts, Mirah got her start in Olympia and still releases albums on Olympia’s K Records label, and members of Led to Sea have spent some significant time in town as well. The universe seemed to not want me to make the show; I missed bus after bus, but finally made it to Northern at just about 9 o’clock.
I showed up at a packed Northern an hour after the show had started. The air was warm and sweaty, a result of the venue being packed with women and men who are not part of the typical Northern crowd coming out to see these two wonderful all-female bands. I maneuvered my way through the crowd packed tight in the very small, very intimate Northern. On the white wall to the right, a series of ink drawings and patterns were hanging; on the left, the entire wall was covered in giant waves of five colors of paper, orange, purple, yellow, teal, and dark blue. The only light was the warm light coming from the stage lamps that illuminated the stage and the two violin women playing violin and viola and the “honorary female” cellist.
Just as I found a place to stand, stretching my head and neck to see over the amassed crowd of people, the singer announced the name of their next song, “Is This the Last Time.” Damn, I thought, I’ve missed all of the opening band, but lo, I was treated to four songs of their swelling strings and delicate voice of the singer, filling and encompassing the venue and washing over the crowd, reminding me of a smokey jazz club.
Led to Sea’s set was all too-quickly over and, elbow-to-elbow with the rest of the patrons, I took a sit on the concrete floor to wait out the intermission. The crowd was jubilant despite the warmth inside; people took off their jackets and tied them around their waists, but chattered on, happy and excited for the main act.
After some time, 15 minutes or so, Mirah appeared on-stage and tuned her guitar before being joined by Thao and members of Led to Sea acting as a backing band. Some quick hellos were said before they launched into performing. Two songs into the set, Mirah stopped and, while tuning her guitar, asked if the crowd could rearrange themselves, from short to tall, so that everybody could see.
Playing all the cuts off their album, Mirah was precociously cute while Thao wailed and rocked out on her guitar. For “Little Cup,” my favorite off the album, Thao provided the unique vocal percussion. Keeping in the spirit of an Olympia homecoming, a friend of Mirah’s was invited up on-stage to play tambourine with the rest of the band and a “pleasant surprise” occurred when the snare drum broke and the drummer and Mirah played schoolyard pattycake for percusision on one of the songs.
The atmosphere was fun and exciting, with people dancing and bumping into each other and enjoying themselves. After a timeless set and a two song encore, the best show I have seen at Northern was over.