Big Thief return to Atlanta with an emotional and raw performance for a sold-out Eastern.
Out in support of their latest album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, which was released early last year, Big Thief come into Atlanta reinvigorated and reinvented. The quaretet, comprised of Adrianne Lenker (vocals, guitar), Buck Meek (vocals, guitar), Max Oleartchik (bass), and James Krivchenia (percussion), have had quite the steady rise over the past few years, with their most recent project earning them two Grammy nominations. The album sees the band dive head-first into new, folkier sounds, something they made sure to bring with them to Atlanta.
It takes a special talent to open up for your own band, but Buck Meek didn't seem fazed by it at all. Meek, the lead guitarist for Big Thief, brought his solo career to life ahead of their headline set. Buck is gentle, and his band actively compliments this. Light tapping on the drum kit behind him and the unmistaken sound of pedal steel to his left, Meek's band combines his western country stylings with the sweet embrace of indie singer/songwriter music for an incredible and cohesive sound. Desolation and melancholy filled Buck's set, as many of the same themes from Big Thief's music transition into his solo work. For fans of Big Thief, getting an added set of Buck Meek is an absolute win, and a set you definitely want to show up early to catch.
Big Thief know how to keep an audience enraptured. A modest production made way for overwhelming intimacy, as the band stood relatively fixed in place, letting the music take precedence over performance. Despite the size of the large concert hall, the entire audience was fixated on the band, grasping at every word and fully taken by the lush instrumentation. Big Thief adds a warmth to the air, even with such frigid and cold songs. There is an immense sadness in much of the band's work, loss, isolation, and loneliness come to mind, but this culminates into a feeling of community and even joy as the audience projects their feelings onto the songs, adding unspoken layers of sympathy to the live show.
Sonically you could not ask for a better show, as Big Thief has developed a big sound for such a small band. Lenker's light and airy guitar playing stood out front, often acting as the main differentiator of songs. Her guitar playing feels more like the mastery of sound vibrations than actual guitar playing, as each strum feels like a fresh breathe of air through the speakers. Then there is Meek on electric, never faltering to add song subtle power to songs, driving them along with persuasive chords. Oleartchik's bass was understated, but never ignored. In particular, there were songs featuring upright bass, which adds a minuscule, but noticeable, flavor to the sound, helping craft the folkier leanings of the band into a full dish. Then there was Krivchenia's drumming, the base of the music. Delicate and calculated, not one strike of the drumhead felt out of place. In such subdued music, striking that perfect balance in percussion is key, and Krivchenia did that with ease. On top of all this, Mat Davidson of Twain and Noah Lencker, Adrianne's brother, joined the band on stage on fiddle and mouth harp respectively.
At the forefront of the sound was without a doubt Adrianne Lenker's vocals. Haunting, idiosyncratic, and downright mesmerizing, Lenker lures you in by the ear with her soft, yet oddly authoritarian, delivery. Subdued howls and a melodramatic streak, Lenker's Americana-tinged voice reminds me a lot of contemporaries like Angel Olsen or Waxahatchee/Plains. "Dried Roses" sees Lenker follow this approach, highlighting her dynamic range, utilizing her voice more as an instrument in the composition rather than just a delivery mechanism for lyrics. We then see her draw back down into a raspy whisper on "Flower of Blood", flying just below the radar of the cathartic and swelling instrumentation in a dazzling display for the audience.
For those who are unaware, most concert tours at this scale are extremely choreographed, with the setlist remaining the same night to night. This is to provide the best possible show, with performers and audio engineers able to operate at their best, well rehearsed and in full control. However, every so often a group of musicians will decide to mix it up, changing up the setlist every show. Remembering more songs with less queues is incredibly difficult, so it should come as no surprise that Big Thief fits that bill. A tight sixteen songs filled their show, covering songs from across all five of the band's studio albums and even some unreleased tracks.
3. Shark Smiles
7. Dried Roses
8. Wanted You to Stay
9. Flower of Blood
10. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
13. Simulation Swarm
14. Vampire Empire
16. Spud Infinity
Big Thief don't look to be slowing down anytime in the near future, with the rest of their U.S. tour, a European tour, and another leg in the U.S., including a co-headline run with Lucinda Williams, on the books. The band's full list of upcoming shows is below.
2/25 Asheville, NC — Thomas Wolfe Auditorium* (SOLD OUT)
2/26 Charlottesville, VA — Jefferson Theater* (SOLD OUT)
3/01 Brooklyn, NY — Brooklyn Steel* (SOLD OUT)
3/02 New York, NY — Radio City Music Hall* (SOLD OUT)
4/05 Gateshead, UK — Sage Gateshead
4/06 Edinburgh, UK — Usher Hall
4/07 Manchester, UK — O2 Apollo
4/08 Cardiff, UK — The Great Hall
4/11 London, UK — Eventim Apollo
4/12 London, UK — Eventim Apollo
4/15 Rotterdam, NL — Motel Mozaïque 2023
4/16 Da Gronigen, NL — De Ooosterpoort (SOLD OUT)
4/18 Antwerp, BE — De Roma (SOLD OUT)
4/21 Winterthur, CH — Sallzhaus (SOLD OUT)
4/22 Munich, DE — Cafe Muffathalle (SOLD OUT)
4/23 Milan, IT — Alcatraz
4/26 Barcelona, ES — Razzmatazz
4/27 Valencia, ES — Moon Valencia
4/28 Madrid, ES vSala Riviera
4/29 Lisboa, PT — Lisboa Ao Vivo
7/17 Shelbourne, VT — Shelbourne Museum+
7/18 Northampton, MA — The Pines Theater+
7/19 Kingston, NY — Ulster Performing Arts Center+ (SOLD OUT)
7/26 Indianpolis, IN — Egyptian Room+
7/27 Madison, WI — The Sylvee+
7/29 South Omaha, NE — Maha Festival 2023
7/31 Morrison, CO — Red Rocks Amphitheatre=
8/03 Vancouver, BC — The Orpheum= (SOLD OUT)
8/04 Poortland, OR — McMenamins Edgefield=
8/05 Seattle, WA — Marymoor Park=
8/08 Berkley, CA — The Greek Theatre=
8/09 Los Angelos, CA — Hollywood Foroever Cemetery~
* with Buck Meek
+ with Nick Hakim
= co-headline with Lucinda Williams
~ with Bill Callahan
This show was executed flawlessly. Downright gorgeous instrumentation, highlighted by stunning guitar work and tight drums, Adrianne Lenker's bone-chilling vocals, and a reassuring sense of melancholy brought out the best in the band. Big Thief should not be underestimated when they're in this state. This isn't a show to go out and rock out at, you don't go to drink and dance, but rather experience some of modern music's best work. And an experience it is, with many in the crowd being visually overtaken by the music. Big Thief is a must see for anyone who likes their music soft and introspective, or just appreciates raw talent when they see it.