Live Review: Big Thief @ Rock City
An alternative folk-rock quartet from across the pond, Big Thief brought their captivating stage presence to Rock City for an enchanting live performance.
Anyone who has witnessed Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief perform live will agree that it is a truly magnetic spectacle. Lenker appears to treat her guitar as an extension of her own body, without even needing to think about where she places her fingers or the sound emerging from her instrument, purely feeling what she is playing. This emotion and connection to the music is blindingly clear during an extended and chaotically beautiful guitar solo, raising adulatory applause and cheer from the buzzing audience at Nottingham’s Rock City as it finishes and segues into the opening chords of Shark Smile, one of Big Thief’s most well-known and adored tracks.
Pair this musical dexterity with the haunting, lilting vocals of Lenker soaring above the accompanying instruments and you’re onto the unique and painfully beautiful sound to which few of Big Thief’s contemporaries can come close. But however distinctive and integral to Big Thief Lenker’s voice may be, the fundamental connection between all four members of the band is undeniable, and each member has their own intrinsic value in creating Big Thief’s unmistakeable sound. It is visible and palpable throughout their set, as the four musicians play cohesively on stage like the four limbs of the same graceful body – an effect compellingly tangible when they all sing together in harmony throughout a handful of songs, most memorably during a sensational rendition of Not.
Big Thief arrived fresh into the new year after a blisteringly successful 2019, which propelled the genre-fluid quartet (Lenker – guitar & vocals, Buck Meek – guitar & backing vocals, Max Oleartchik - bass and James Krivchenia – drums) onto a platform seemingly still unknown to them. The band do not seem to crave or need the spotlight or fame in the same way that others appear to, keeping relatively quiet on social media and releasing their alternative/indie/rock/folk music at their own pace and only when they are ready to, rather than succumb to the demands of their fans or label.
'Lenker appears to treat her guitar as an extension of her own body, without even needing to think about where she places her fingers or the sound emerging from her instrument'.
Their 2016 debut Masterpiece first introduced the world to their characteristically mesmerising sounds, and certainly lived up to its title with a plethora of outrageously well-constructed tracks, including the eponymous track Masterpiece alongside the likes of Paul and Real Love. Fortunately, Big Thief’s productivity shows no signs of subsiding; Capacity succeeded Masterpiece in 2017, and 2019 saw two magnificent releases: first the critically acclaimed and Grammy-nominated U.F.O.F., quickly followed by Two Hands. Tonight’s performance featured a handful of new songs including Two Rivers and the rhythmically mellow Time Escaping, which encouragingly hints at new fifth album on the horizon.
Having played to their largest ever crowd of 5000 the previous evening at London’s Eventim Apollo, it is clear that the band is sincerely and earnestly grateful to be in Nottingham this evening, as Lenker explains in her surprisingly timid voice to Rock City’s 2000-strong audience. It is rare, and surprisingly humbling, to see artists reach a level of success and eminence such as this, but still remain genuinely happy and thankful to be playing to their audience, almost disbelieving that people know and appreciate their music. With a performance that is both peaceful and agitated, the band played from a simply-lit and unadorned stage; distraction from the music seems unnecessary.
'The band do not seem to crave or need the spotlight or fame in the same way that others appear to, keeping relatively quiet on social media and releasing their alternative/indie/rock/folk music at their own pace'.
Sometimes soothing and tranquil and at other times bursting with raw energy, the band played a smorgasbord of songs from their now-hefty repertoire, jumping from the pared-back elegance of Mary to the rhythmic and soulful Capacity or Shoulders. The emotion is clear as Lenker transitions from crooning into the microphone to a frenzied guitar solo mid-way through the set, shrieking into the dead space between the band members and captivating every single member of the audience. The band finish with the lustrous Cattails and an encore of Magic Dealer, before a simple and final goodbye to the audience – with that, the show is over.
'It is rare, and surprisingly humbling, to see artists reach a level of success and eminence such as this, but still remain genuinely happy and thankful to be playing to their audience'.
Big Thief is a band that constantly evolves but simultaneously never changes, creating a sound not quite like that of any other, but instead distinctively beautiful in their own right. My high expectations of this band – both from word of mouth and my own idea drawn from their four breath-taking albums – were not disappointed in the slightest. In fact, I urge anyone who has the opportunity to witness this four-piece perform with their own eyes.
Having attracted a dedicated cult following from day one, Big Thief are a collective of powerful and extremely talented musicians weaving their own distinctive sound into the already rich tapestry of alternative folk-rock music, and as their recent performances and releases have proved, the self-appointed titles of Masterpiece(s) are not unfounded in the slightest and most certainly well-deserved.