Some individuals have a magnetism and vibrancy of personality about them that will always make them the center of any universe – an innate, unforced ability to lend weight and importance to every word, to every gesture. Although you’d think she prefers not to be, Adrianne Lenker is one of those special people.
Lenker, accompanied by bassist Max Oleartchik and drummer James Krivchenia – but missing guitarist Buck Meek, who is taking time off most of the tour to record solo material – played an emotionally charged show at the Black Cat on Saturday night that clocked in right under an hour and a half. Punctuated by moments of easy, unintentional humor – a false start here, a forgotten lyric and wry smile there, an improvised song in the middle of an audience favorite – the crowd remained rapt in wonderment throughout. Big Thief made the unconventional decision to start the show with two new songs in short sequence, before diving quickly into “Masterpiece,” the eponymous track from their debut album. Lenker deftly switched between three guitars throughout the night, and peppered the audience with her soft-spoken, ebullient charm as she tuned up and down. Unknown tracks were woven between well-known ballads, and we even heard “Spud Infinity,” a raw and humorous ditty that nonetheless remained in character.
Maybe you don’t know Lenker by name. Perhaps you haven’t come across the first couple of albums by her band Big Thief – the aptly titled Masterpiece, and their 2017 follow-up, Capacity – two of the most delicate, heart-wrenching, and emotionally stirring indie-rock recordings of the last few years. And that’s alright. But as anyone in the audience for Saturday night’s sold-out show will tell you, Lenker is already in rarified air; an artist with complete command of her subject as well as her medium. Her songs are inhabited by multidimensional, flawed characters brimming with humanity, and Lenker brings them to life in moving detail. Listening to this band is like having a geyser read you a fairy tale – the simmering, bubbling energy beneath the surface eventually gives way to an awe-inspiring eruption. By the end of the night I had lost count of the different descriptions and definitions of love, each one messier than the previous one, all hand-delivered in Lenker’s gorgeous howl.
It was fitting that Saturday felt like the first day of fall – an evening where the warm, gentle summer breeze sharpened and recoiled into itself. As long, carefree nights begin to withdraw and button up, make Big Thief’s albums your companions and comfort. Take a moment to feel your feelings; cry if you have to. You won’t be alone.