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Live Music Review: Big Thief at Rock City

1 March 20 words: Becky Timmins

Beloved Brooklyn quartet Big Thief invited us into their inner circle this weekend, bringing all the makings of an intimate jam session to Rock City…

It can take years for bands to craft a sound as triumphantly authentic as that of Big Thief. Heck, many never manage it at all. The fact that this Brooklyn-based indie folk four piece have only been together five years then is quite something. Granted they have known each other longer, having studied at Berklee College of Music prior to formation. Yet even without any sense of Big Thief’s backstory, the feeling rippling through the audience tonight discloses that something special is afoot.

Take the large crowd that have already gathered for the somewhat unexpected support act; the prepared fans among us know we’re in for an intense forty-five minutes – we’ve already given London hardcore quintet Ithaca a listen. The very act of choosing a support band from a wildly different genre to your own tells you an awful lot about what makes Big Thief tick – and tick so splendidly.

The stage is set up modestly post Ithaca, the guitar and amp wires amassing into an overt circle, into which we are swiftly drawn as Big Thief take to the stage. On record, singer-songwriter-guitarist Adrianne Lenker’s voice has a divergence that guides us through terrains both astral and close to the bone, and it doesn’t take long to realise just how prodigious that voice is, kicking off with an Adrianne solo piece Terminal Paradise, followed by Mary from Big Thief’s 2017 album Capacity.

Big Thief somehow distil how it feels to be human in their captivating shoegaze-drenched folk rock, through the combination of Lenker’s idiosyncratic voice and heartfelt guitar work with the instrumental mastery of bandmates Buck Meek, Max Oleartchik and James Krivchenia. If vulnerability had a soundtrack, 2019’s second Big Thief release Two Hands would be it, and we are treated to several tracks from that album tonight – heavy ballad Not wrenching everyone in Rock City’s breath away.

The striking honesty and openness of Big Thief’s lyricism – surely a big part of their appeal – is delivered with such clarity and spirit that there are plenty of tears being shed among the crowd. This hardly relents, particularly as they share pared-down versions of a few new tracks - such is the connection between Big Thief and the audience tonight. However, this band can do it all – just seconds after the first few chords of titular 2016 track Masterpiece, the energy surges as it would for any indie anthem. But of course this isn’t just any indie anthemit’s a Big Thief indie anthem; beautiful, jangly and determined in equal measures, faintly reminiscent of R.E.M.  

Penultimate track Cattails and encore offering Magic Dealer allow the band some lengthier periods of jamming, and a final dose of their stirring, soulful energy for a beguiled crowd who are simply not ready to part ways with Big Thief.

Big Thief played Rock City on Saturday 29 February

Rock City website

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