– Academy, Manchester –

Big Thief

Big Thief

Magical bands do not come along that often. To be a magical band, you have to have an alchemy that is almost undefinable, a mysterious quality that’s all but impossible to put your finger on, something that no other combination of people could achieve, something not even an infinite amount of monkeys given an infinite amount of guitars and drums could replicate. Big Thief, in case you haven’t already deduced, are absolutely one of these rare specimens. They seem to have also done that rarest of things, growing organically on the power of positive word of mouth, to the point that they are now headlining the biggest non-arena venues in town. And, dear reader, it absolutely fills my heart with joy to see this many people gathered together at the altar of Big Thief, with genuine outpourings of joy coming from a veritable smorgasbord of groups of people. There are cute couples, arm in arm looking dotably into each other’s eyes; there are groups of lads, groups of girls; there are old people and there are young people and there is every age between. Mostly though, the well dressed hipsters are out in force, and it appears to be a faux pas to not be sporting a moustache. Big Thief have united the music listening public, and have created the broadest of churches.

Big Thief are one of the most prolific bands going, I genuinely have no idea when they find the time to sleep. Adrianne Lenker and the gang are here in support of their mammoth new double album, the ridiculously/impressively (delete as appropriate) titled ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’, a stunning collection of songs that spans country hoedowns to near trip hop dirges. They kick off with a run of the first four songs from ‘DNWMIBIY’, and for about 20 minutes I think they’re going to play the whole thing in full, which would have been a bold move for them – they’re not a band of conventional setlists, they play unreleased music frequently and sometimes change they whole vibe of songs, as they do here with the title track, turning it from a sweet country song into a full blown grunge rocker (one that really works). After the gentle opening, of which ‘Changes’ is a gorgeous highlight, Lenker and guitarist Buck Meek ditch the full album business and turn their amps up to 11, really going for it with ‘Love Love Love’, Lenker producing an almost guttural roar on the repeated coda of “release my love, my love”, before then launching into one of their biggest songs halfway through the set, ‘Not’, in which Lenker and Meek shred guitars with the best of them, extended out to almost 10 minutes of riff based perfection.

‘Blurred View’ is almost Radiohead in vibe, one of the best songs on the new album and one of the biggest departures from their signature sound. You can close your eyes and imagine Thom Yorke singing it, which is probably the biggest music based compliment I can offer any band. They always seem to have a new show stopper on each tour (‘Not’ providing it last time round), and this time it’s ‘Sparrow’, a stunner on a whole other level to most other bands. Lenker strums the opening chords before singing the first verse a cappella, her tender voice cutting right into my tear ducts, quivering with gentle beauty, before the rest of the band rejoin her by the chorus. Lenker is one of the best songwriters going, and this could plausibly be her best yet, the pay off of Adam accusing Eve of “having poison inside her, she talks to snakes and they guide her”, being almost impossibly emotional; I am a teary mess.

Lenker, almost silent between songs until the end, tells a rambling story about an argument she had with a flight attendant on the way over here, a slightly odd interlude and one that tests the patience of some of the assembled. Post ramble, they play ‘Blue Lightning’ and declare, abruptly, that that’s the evening done (having played for almost 90 mins already). Yet the band seem to sense an air of disappointment in the room, so play crowd pleasers ‘Forgotten Hands’ and ‘Masterpiece’ to the joy of the “one more song” lads. It’s a slightly odd if entertaining end to the gig, but one that can’t detract from the magic awash in the black box venue. Big Thief are a special band, and they must be protected at all costs.

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