2nd April 2018
La Belle Angèle, Edinburgh
In less than two years Big Thief have released two LPs, Masterpiece and Capacity, both as magnificent as each other. Simultaneously classic and experimental, they produce vivid images of love and pain with aching wisdom. They move effortlessly through genre, from pulsating guitar music to raw and melodic folk. Leading is Adrianne Lenker, whose trembling, yearning vocals add a vulnerability to their clean and confident sound.
The Edinburgh show was in equal parts a performance of the best-known songss, and a showcase of new material. From the start there was a sense of inclusivity, as though the band and the fans were equally as important within this space.
When asked how she was, Lenker was touchingly honest. She explained how she felt she was “in a loop”, obsessively reliving the previous thing she had said or done. Performing the same set day after day, it is easy to imagine becoming detached; losing the emotion of the music in the monotony. Yet this was certainly not the case with Big Thief, and particularly Lenker, whose emotional commitment to her performance is remarkable.
What was most striking was the band’s synchronisation, in no way diminished by the absence of guitarist Buck Meek. Their emotional bond was apparent, along with their astounding musicianship, as they moved through the songs in seemingly effortless unison.
The atmosphere undulated between the steamy rock of ‘Masterpiece’ and ‘Paul’, the steady storytelling of ‘Mythological Beauty’, and the throbbing nostalgia of ‘Mary’. Lenker threw her hair around in ‘Parallels’, screaming, begging for an answer to her question “Don’t I make you feel alive?”. New song ‘Not’ felt like a swirling, building storm and was instantly memorable.
Lenker’s lyrics are deeply personal tales of tragic love, family and trauma. She has the rare gift of writing words that seem irremovable from the music to which they are set, as though they were always waiting to be put together. With the intimacy and fragility of the lyrics, she relives her experiences as she sings them. When she sang about the heart, she pressed a hand to her own; when she spoke of touch, she closed her eyes and stroked her own skin.
Hugely memorable was the colossal, screaming guitar solo that concludes ‘Real Love’. Working her way through the riff at half speed, Lenker seemed utterly consumed; the audience forgotten, her bandmates watching on with patient admiration. Lenker seemed almost to be experimenting, bent double, trying to make the guitar do her bidding, and there was an aching intimacy in observing this struggle. Finally satisfied, Lenker effortlessly slams through the final notes of the riff, confirming her astounding virtuosity, the band reunited for the epic, crashing finish.
Unusually, the show was concluded by two new songs, though this could suggest the band’s true desire to share more of what they are working on. In the gentle and shuddering ‘Orange’, Lenker lamented “fragile means I can hear her flesh”, summing up what Big Thief’s music really says. That truth, beauty and humanity can be found in fragility and vulnerability, as well as a kind of strength.
Image: p_a_h via. Wikimedia