1st November | Thekla
Photo: Rowan Allen
“We couldn’t leave without telling you one more time that we love you” Adrienne Lenker says as Big Thief prepare for their final piece that fits the puzzle of a soul-baring, beautiful show. It’s a little subtle inside joke that has carried from the crowd to the stage and back again from as soon as the trio’s set commenced, the impassioned crowd shouting “we love you” between songs and Lenker reciprocating with gentle humbleness and utmost warmth as guitars are tuned. It’s an apt representation of the endearing attachment that fills the Thekla this evening, a cycle that seems to have come full circle since the release of their heartbreakingly stunning Capacity in June. An album rich with character and characters, it’s a frankly human record of emotion and circumstance, and live Big Thief untuck the sheets wrapped amongst it and somehow manage to exude even more sentimentality from within.
Opening the evening, Katie Von Schleicher delivers a wonderfully engaging set that takes the evocative songwriting of latest record Shitty Hits and explores their very foundations, excavating something thematically darker and involved. Playing as a two-piece this evening across subtle keys and a deep, course guitar sound, Katie’s voice lingers with yearning conviction as the guitar sways and teeters to the surprisingly brittle arrangements they are making. It’s unquestionably striking, the sharper sound enhancing the more abstract pop notions that simmer from within Katie’s songwriting. Case in point being ‘Mary’, it’s tender benevolence ringing around the Thekla as Von Schleicher deeply yearns “If Mary’s on my mind, gotta get her out, if Mary’s in my heart, gotta get her out.” As a duo, they use the space left from a lack of percussion and bass excellently, Von Schleicher’s keys lingering with each note in an uncanny haze, ‘Life’s A lie’ the embodiment of the songwriter’s grand balance of curiosity and restrain.
Big Thief join us as a trio for this evening, guitarist Buck Meek having not joined this tour due to writing a solo record. It obviously has an impact on the performance, but not in anyway a bad detail, it offers a distinct experience to hear the band’s effecting songs in a more minimal nature and exhibits the transcendent nature of Big Thief’s music. ‘Shark Smile’ is absolutely stunning, it’s driving heart enhanced by the bristly, ragged nature of Lenker’s guitar and Max Oleartchik and James Krivchenia’s loose, untempered refrains, signifying their expressive fluidity as a band.
Their folk and Americana explorations particularly come to the fore live, evoking the earthy essence of their music that fits like a winter glove within the individual, human emotion of their thematic approach. Lenker can silence a room with a whisper alone, and tonight a voice so deep and familiar is revitalising. ‘Randy’ is an isolating and slowly nerve-wracking composition, dealt with further unambiguity by Lenker’s serene voice, ‘Velvet Ring’ rings within it’s louder, layered guitar, a pace significant in within the context of their set, something which is distinct and notable as the set whirls from silencing tranquility to impelling force. It’s here that Big Thief have taken a step into becoming a band so well-formed that they leave an unquestionable mark on whats next.
Where groups such as Wilco, Modest Mouse and The National were and still are revered for the constant quality of their output, Big Thief take it one step further and are able to mould the context of their whole harvest and let it ring true within their live performance, a stark, heartbreaking and restorative example of their music’s emotional and empathetic capacity. Closing with an animated and emphatic ‘Humans’, the crowd in united appreciation, it’s unquestionably sad to see this set end, but undoubtedly exciting to see what Big Thief will gift us with next.
Listen to ‘Shark Smile’ below.