Adrianne Lenker


It’s officially the coldest night of winter so far, there are ice rinks on the pavements and the big coats are out. I’m in a borrowed coat and gloves due to a personal admin error (thanks Sam), yet in the Pink Room at Yes (are all gigs in Manchester at Yes these days?!), there is a comforting warmth which envelops me and a sold out crowd, all gathered to see Big Thief’s front woman Adrianne Lenker perform tracks from her 2018 brilliant solo album, abysskiss. The warmth comes from two things; Yes’ impressive heating system (of which Lenker claims she’s never played a warm room in Europe until tonight – kudos Now Wave), which ensures big coats are duly discarded throughout the room, and from Lenker’s majestic, bewitching, virtuoso performance.

She is completely alone on stage, save for a couple of massive indoor plants flanking her (probably thriving in the tropical heat of the room), grasping a guitar that “has been with me since I was 14” and absolutely nothing more is needed. For what unfolds over the next hour or so is a performance so tender and uplifting that it should be available on the NHS during the winter months to help people get through the worst the year has to throw at us. It’s like sitting in front of a roaring fire, wrapped in a blanket and comfy clothes, perhaps a glass of red, and your favourite film playing (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, if you’re asking), and it’s magnificent. The crowd is hushed and reverently respectful throughout, mesmerised by Lenker’s incredible voice and superb guitar work (honestly, she is majestic on that thing, finger picking heaven) and she in turn is wondrous and grateful for out attention; not that she needs to be – it’s us that should be grateful for just being present here, seeing her do her brilliant thing.

She treats us to highlights from abysskiss and several new, as yet untitled songs – one that she ends on is so box fresh it doesn’t have a title beyond ‘Pizzeria Gusto’ which is the restaurant she was in when she wrote it (incidentally it’s stunning, lines such as “emptiness, what’s your nature, have I misjudged you?” cutting deep). Opening on ‘terminal paradise’, immediately we are in the palm of her hand as her falsetto drifts over the beautifully picked guitars, her smile at the end of the song revealing a missing tooth, somehow making her all the more endearing. Stripped of any embellishments other than her voice and guitar, these songs go directly to the heart, swelling it, pinching at the tear ducts, ‘cradle’ with it’s denouncement of, “baby you’re still too proud to come down” close to setting off my fragile waterworks.

‘from’, with its swooping minor cords, is awesome, and there’s a lovely moment that shows just how amazing her voice is she when she begins ‘out of your mind’ (alas not a cover of the Victoria Beckham/Dane Bowers banger) in a key that’s “miles higher than usual”, but instead of lowering it she carries on, her voice stretched to breaking but still pulling every note off to adoring cheering from the crowd. “Get out of your mind and into my arms” is the plea, in what’s positively a stand out stomper compared to the rest of the hushed set.

Ending on new songs is a brave choice, but such is the good will of the crowd that she could probably lay into a full cover of the aforementioned Bowers/Beckham banger, complete with floor length leather jackets and trance lasers, and we’d still lap it up. One of the new songs is particularly extraordinary, probably the quietest song of the night, but one which I look forward to with anticipation if it is to surface on her next record. Remarkably, she doesn’t go near a Big Thief song all night, and to be honest why would she? The strength of her solo material matches even their Capacity masterpiece, and it’s been a wonderful start to my gig going year. Things are going to have to be pretty special to match this for the rest of 2019.

Adrianne Lenker: Official | Facebook | Twitter