Reviewed on Wednesday March 1
Big Thief’s music is the music of eruption. Choruses break underfoot like bracken, silence is carefully weighted and measured out, and lyrical surprises appear out of nowhere, like a silver filling flashing in someone’s mouth as they laugh. And so it was at their Newtown Social Club show, a gig defined by left turns and surprises carefully and stunningly engineered.
The majority of the set was comprised of cuts from Big Thief’s debut album, a viciously overstuffed serving of lo-fi guitar work and arch pleasures called Masterpiece. Indeed, one of band’s greatest assets was quickly proved to be its ability to transform the tricky production present on that near-perfect record into real-life power, as scuzzy drum beats became sustained, staccato solos and tinfoil guitar lines swelled up into jazzy freak-outs.
Things were deliberately torn; fuzzed and thrown out of shape. Lead singer Adrianne Lenker, so quiet and assured on record, broke time and time again into fitful screams, as melody lines snagged like so much barbed wire catching on clothing. “I can’t say that I’ll miss my human form”, that scorching line from Masterpiece’s closer ‘Parallels’, hit out across the audience like the tail of some frantic creature, and the gasp uttered after it was dropped was audible even amongst the hubbub of the song’s second half.
There were new songs presented too, including an ode to Australia that sagged with Lenker’s rich and weighty poetry, boasting lines equal parts Adrienne Rich and Robert Pollard. The audience was even treated to a devastating a capella solo from guitarist and all-round contemporary freak folk genius Buck Meek, a song ripped so unceremoniously from his throat that it initially prompted shocked laughter from the crowd.
About us, actually – the audience. We emitted all the warmth of a tarmac road on a January day, and an encore was not so much requested as it was demanded. For their part, Big Thief graciously received the praise, proving from beginning to end an eminently, almost aggressively loveable collection of musicians. “It means so much to us,” Meek said at one point, suggesting that the band might try to return to these shores in November. “Being so far from home.”
And Lenker. The hair on her head shorn short, her movement on stage slow, and full of grace, she proved as powerful a performer as she is a lyricist and musician, exuding a sonic kindness so strong it felt as though it could be reached out and touched. “I feel very cared for right now,” she said at one point, dipping her head shyly. So did we.