Big Thief


Big Thief can’t quite believe how they ended up here. “This is our first tour on a bus!” exclaims band leader Adrianne Lenker, thrilled by the prospect of actually being able to sleep between city stops. Before the last couple of songs this evening they pause to thank the 17 people who support them on the tour, from the merch guy to the woman who does their monitors (who Lenker met serendipitously on a flight over here), to a local Manchester legend who has put them, and many other touring bands, up in his house before they hit the tour bus big league. But the biggest thanks is reserved for us, the fans, who are told that without whom they wouldn’t be up there on the massive Ritz stage. Which I guess to an extent is true, but without the Brooklyn band releasing three brilliant albums since 2016 (quite the work rate) we wouldn’t have anything to fan over, so maybe we should be thanking them. Which we do. Rapturously after every single song played to the point where the band seem to be struggling to get their collective heads round the size of the adoring crowd before them.

The set starts quietly, with Lenker to the side of the stage under a spotlight, gently strumming her electric guitar and singing a beautiful, tender song in the vein of her wonderful solo album from last year (abysskiss, check it out if you haven’t listened) that appears to be new, and I’m thinking, “cool, I’m in for an evening of sad Big Thief songs and I am fully on board with this”.

But then they pull the ol’ switcheroo from then on and play a joyful, fully plugged in, big set of songs that showcases the meatier side of this special band. ‘Shark Smile’ from 2017’s Capacity, the album that got me into the band, is a barnstormer, quickly followed by ‘Not’ from their debut album, amazingly titled Masterpiece, which features Lenker properly shredding on her guitar to create a wall of feedback-assisted noise that is properly spectacular. I saw Lenker’s solo gig earlier this year at Yes, and was taken aback by how remarkable her intricate acoustic guitar playing was; tonight I’m astonished by her electric, full throttle equivalent, she truly is a superb musician. And her voice. Oh! her voice! From the tender top notes of songs like the beautiful ‘Terminal Paradise’, to the wild, feral howls at the end of ‘Contact’, it’s beguiling, a thing of unrestrained, unrefined beauty.

Slightly oddly, having just released their best album to date U.F.O.F., ‘Terminal Paradise’ and ‘Contact’ are the only two tracks they play from it. The rest are from their previous albums, with fan favourites like ‘Paul’, ‘Real Love’, and ‘Mythological Beauty’, all getting an airing alongside at least two completely new songs (one, called ‘Forget Nines’, is a jaunty rocker that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Masterpiece). Guitarist and enthusiastic dancer Buck Meek gets an endearing solo spot, the crowd willing his slightly off key vocals on through a song I don’t recognise, and the astonishingly tender ‘Mary’ is transformed into a slow burn, lighters aloft torch song anthem that could close out any festival set. And encore of just ‘Masterpiece’ sends us all off beaming from what has been a very special night, showcasing the delightful craft of this very special band. People adore Big Thief, they feel like ‘your’ band, and it’s been brilliant to share my band with 1500 other people. Long may their ascent continue.

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