Adrianne Lenker cooed to more than 2,000 people at the sold-out Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, in a tone mostly reserved for babies and puppies, that all were loved by the multi-hyphenate front-person for Brooklyn music quartet Big Thief as she rested the “stars in her throat” between songs. On Saturday, February 25, in Asheville, North Carolina, the show didn’t feel so much like a performance as it did a conscious shifting, akin to a unifying Timothy Leary advocated happening – sans the LSD.
“Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, release my love, my love, release my love, my love,” chanted Lenker into the microphone while simultaneously offering heavy, loud, booming electric guitars to escort the vocal incantation. Like a modern shaman, Lenker transmits passion, pain, and pleasure through to the adoring crowds. The band somehow takes all the heaviness of experience in those lyrics and braids them with wit and charm, rounding out the show. While some of the audience sat glued to their seats, others lined the perimeter of the balcony to gyrate like they’d been touched.
“She has the poison inside her! She has the poison inside her!” the lyrics of “Sparrow,” a feminist critique of a fall from grace, underscored that this was no pop show. All the while, Buck Meek closed Lenker’s open chords and harmonized with her falsetto pleas. Meek, and his band, opened the show for Big Thief. Despite working a double, Meek nailed every note, brought his standard charismatic flair, and wildly over-delighted as compliment to Lenker and bandmates Max Oleartchik, bass, and James Krivchenia, drums.
At this point it’s a little trite to explain that Big Thief outperforms their albums tenfold, but it seems impossible not to mention it. The band is currently touring and if anyone can catch them, they should do it.
Two songs, “Horsepower” and “Vampire Empire,” haven’t made it onto an album yet, but the way this gang puts out records… just refresh your streaming service and a new one will likely show up. “Horsepower” has the catchy, clanging charm, of a road trip song, much like “Wake Me Up to Drive.” However, “Vampire Empire” bubbles over with conflicts in personal relationships that the group defines for us with such straightforwardness that it leaves us scratching our heads, “Why didn’t I say it like that?”
The tour was mostly devoted to Dragon New Warm Mountain, and unsurprisingly, these songs comprised most of the setlist, yet setlist.com managed to miss that “Love, Love, Love” was, in fact, played, and that it was and the chill of Lenker pleading to be “released” of the love looped in my brain for days afterwards. “Certainty” proved to be a delightful singalong, whereby the band encouraged the audience to participate. “Spud Infinity” required Lenker’s brother, Noah, to come and join as other musicians cycled on stage to assist with steel petal, flute, or fiddle.
Don’t miss this folk rock gang of word-smithing performers. They’ll be with Lucinda Williams for a few stops along with way. Like emotional medicine people, Big Thief guides you through a dizzying adventure of chill-tear-laughter-inducing tunes using chord changes, high hat beats, electric distortion, and throbbing base lines. Beware of your new orientation when you leave – you’ll be chasing your next ticket, feeling the pain of love lost each time you play and replay an album, but mostly lamenting that the album can’t record and transmit the magic of being immersed in a Big Thief love-in.