As published in Loud & Quiet Issue 152
Big Thief’s second night of their sold-out run at West London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire begins somewhat surprisingly, with the band walking an 81-year-old man onto the stage. Tucker Zimmerman, who has been making music since the late ’60s, has accompanied the band to London, and is opening all of their shows. “It’s such an honour,” says Big Thief singer Adrianne Lenker. “Tucker’s music is some of my favourite ever. Since discovering it, it’s become some of the music I’ve listened to the most.”
After his last chord, Lenker tenderly walks Zimmerman back off stage, arm in arm. Following
a short interlude, the band return and begin to play their first song, ‘Sparrow’, from their new album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. This slow, melancholic ballad is hypnotic: the crowd falls silent, any residual pre-show unrest evaporating as the show begins. Lenker’s repetitive vocal melody and bucolic lyrics serve as preparation for the moment when she makes an octave jump, rising into a desperate cry. “She has the poison inside her / She talks to snakes and they guide her,” she sings, evoking the tragic biblical narrative of Adam and Eve.
As ‘Flower of Love’ reaches its climax, it builds to an intensity far beyond that of the recorded version. Lenker’s immaculately executed guitar solo is a beautiful balance of tension and release, of violence and care, her body bending towards the amp, locating the exact point of feedback, picking it up and dancing with it as a fleeting fifth band member. Drummer James Krivchenia raises his sticks high above his head, face distorted, mouth gaping; there is a glint in his eyes, emitting a wonderfully contagious enthusiasm.
As they come to the end of that song, Lenker looks over at guitarist Buck Meek. “Do you want to take this one?” she asks quietly across the stage. As his bandmates set down their instruments, Meek takes a solo song, soothing both the crowd and his fellow musicians. Bassist Max Oleartchik lies down on the stage floor to listen. The lights are dimmed, and twirl slowly as Meek sings a delicate and intimate lullaby.
“We’re still figuring this one out,” Lenker admits to the crowd with a charming smile, as the band begin to play ‘Little Things’. As the show continues, the musicians relax into a visibly comfortable state. Hints of a grin seeping through from behind the microphone; a joyful dance to a country groove; a playful comment passed between band members.
In these moments, Big Thief construct a one-way mirror. Inhibitions are released, and no longer are we a crowd packed into a large auditorium. For a few hours we’re allowed access into a living room, a kitchen, a favourite studio hangout; It is a glimpse into their private world. It’s remarkable. Lila Tristram