Two friends embrace in the foyer of the Aviva Unilever Proctor & Gamble Tony Wilson Factory Arena Studios International (I think that’s it’s full name?) after this most magical of Adrianne Lenker performances:

“What are you doing here?!”


Two partners next to me watch on in hushed rapture, intertwined in each other’s embrace, heads on shoulders, arms around torsos, legs mingled. One whispers to the other:

“She’s extraordinary”

Two more friends, perhaps separated by the seeming impossibility of landing tickets to this sold out show together, plead with Aviva staff:

“Can’t we just sit here, we need to see this together”

You see, Lenker is special. People absolutely adore her, adore her band Big Thief, adore her magnificent, more-than-prolific songwriting. She inspires devotion, she inspires reverence, she inspires love. She is on a very short shortlist for our greatest living songwriter, and that’s no hyperbole. Tonight she makes the cavernous hall at the Studios feel like her front room, and she’s invited us all in to gawp at just how wonderful she is. She’s dead centre, set up on a sound dulling rug, flanked by retro lava lamps. A chair, a box for putting her guitar-supporting, cowboy booted foot on, two acoustic guitars, and a piano are the only stage adornments. The last thing I saw here was that mad Danny Boyle Matrix thing, which featured around 30 dancers and still didn’t cover this massive stage. Lenker however owns it wholly, completely, just by being still and mesmerising us with her astonishing catalogue.

We are treated to a sprawling concert that showcases Lenker’s full breadth. We get solo songs, Big Thief songs, cover versions, 5+ minute guitar tuning sessions accompanied by rambling stories of soup and haircuts and running and micro-naps and HIIT sessions. Her new album Bright Future, released only a couple of weeks ago, barely gets a look in, with only three songs from it aired (and that includes the fan favourite grey area song ‘Vampire Empire’, recorded by both Big Thief and by her solo). Indeed, Lenker confesses to not having written a setlist until 5 minutes before coming on stage. But this matters little when she has the quality and breadth of incredible songs at her fingertips to convey with utmost sincerity and wonder. There are plenty of highlights, like a stunning ‘my angel’, a gorgeous ‘12,000 Lines’, the interpolation of Lucinda Williams’ ‘Like a Rose’ onto the end of ‘Vampire Empire’, and a version of ‘Real House’ that absolutely floors me. It’s an unexpected magical moment that takes the crown for the best moment of the evening though.

After having invited support act Nick Hakim to accompany her on the piano for the final section, she sings ‘zombie girl’ from her 2020 album songs, and like everything else, it’s rapturously received by a genuine pin-drop crowd. After it, she declares that it felt so good to sing it, she’s going to do it again, giggling to herself. She instructs Hakim to ‘slow it down a touch’ and it becomes something else, something so utterly powerful and beautiful that I can’t identify a dry eye around me. It’s an extraordinary moment, and the shouts of ‘again’ following the second outing are only half in jest you feel. She could probably play it four more times in different ways, and no one would complain.

This is the thing about the gig, it feels loose, unstructured, organic, like watching a friend sing in their home to a crowd of three. Yet you’re also watching someone who can play a guitar like the best of them, technically staggering, emotionally confounding, and singing some of the finest songs written in the last 10 years. The revenant crowd give her a full standing ovation twice, she looks genuinely moved, and there’s the feeling in the room that everyone has just witnessed something special. Yes there are gripes – the tuning takes an age sometimes, somewhat taking me out of the moment, and there are songs I’d loved to have heard (no ‘Ruined’! No ‘Donut Seam’! No ‘terminal paradise’!), but these slight inconveniences are put aside as soon as she starts up her next remarkable song. It’s a genuine privilege to be in her presence for 90 minutes. She’s a treasure, and she should be protected at all costs.