Tuesday, June 8

Mirah and Thao, two acclaimed indie singer-songwriters with different styles, proved that collaborations involving unlikely duos can pay off, big-time, as they played to a pleasantly full room at Congress.

Paving the way for a lovely evening was Led to Sea, a solo project featuring L. Alex Guy on vocals and viola. (She later performed as part of Thao and Mirah's backing band.) She looped plucked viola strings and added layer upon layer of sound, touching on several styles. Guy effectively built a mood of melancholy featuring rays of hope, with a voice not unlike that of Ani DiFranco. The highlight was a song she had written as an homage to her bicycle, which was ruined in a car wreck.

Thao and Mirah, and their backing band the Most of All (which included a drummer, bassist, keyboardist and violinist), opened with a 30-second barnstorming clap-along, jolting the audience. The first full-length song, Mirah's "The Dogs of B.A.," was a brave mix of folk, spaghetti Western and cabaret, with the full band chiming in on the chorus. This was followed by a '60s surf-pop number featuring Thao on lead vocals.

During the show, the band was stylistically all over the map. A clarinet, banjo, glockenspiel and bongos all found their way into the mix.

Their set was a splendid balance of music from both artists. Mirah's singing style was saccharine and graceful, in the vein of Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins. Thao was far more forceful, putting an emphasis on each syllable as she stomped and shimmied with her acoustic guitar. One song, containing the line, "Sorry about so much baby, but I know you understand," started out as a lament, quiet and sullen, but built into a call to arms, highlighting their complementary styles. There was a percussive breakdown during Thao's hit "Beat (Health, Life and Fire)," which proved to be the high point of the performance.

As an aside, Mirah briefly touched on the effects of SB 1070, and how bands boycotting the state were missing the point. "As far as I see it, we're taking money from Arizona by showing up." We were pleased to give our money away for a show like that.