”Can you teach me to transform?” During ‘Parallels’, Big Thief’s singer and principal songwriter Adrianne Lenker poses the question and the Brooklyn-based foursome she fronts are more than happy to oblige. Stealing our collective heart, and darn near pretty much all of our mind with their stunning debut album Masterpiece, the band have already started to move on.
Not content to merely rest on their laurels and bask in the glory of the universal praise afforded them by their first record, Big Thief are already paving the way for its follow-up. Guitarist Buck Meek advises us that their second album will be upon us in early June and they are taking the opportunity provided by this European tour to road test some of the material destined for it.
And what emerges is a clutch of songs that sees Big Thief continuing their sonic evolution, shifting further away from the descriptive limitations imposed upon them by lo-fi indie-rock into something that is altogether more expansive and complex. Suddenly Big Thief find themselves imbued with a far greater musical muscularity and associated emotional heft, characteristics that in truth weren’t exactly in short supply as it was. And the precise moment that this metamorphosis takes place tonight is during the song ‘Breathe’ when they transmute into a fully fledged avant-arthouse outfit who now owe far more to the spirit of The Velvet Underground and The Breeders than ever they did Sharon Van Etten and Bon Iver.
Dispensing with the exact sequence of songs that had been hastily scribbled onto the back of a paper plate beforehand, Big Thief rearrange tonight’s setlist as if to confirm their developing role as one of rock’n’roll’s true iconoclasts. New song ‘Magic D’ finds itself nestling between ‘Real Love’ and ‘Parallels’, drawing hope and inspiration from its predecessors as it inspires each of these tunes into a gloriously advanced welter of off-kilter popular noise.
Before ending with another new song, and yet another innovative and absorbing example of art-rock, ‘Terminal Paradise’, Adrianne Lenker suggests that “lying on the dust is really good medicine”. The strangeness of her sentiment seems to fit perfectly well with Big Thief’s current esoteric musical development. But then as if to remind us all of the very spot from where their artistic trajectory had first taken off, Lenker encores with a truly impeccable cover of ‘The Kiss’, the doomed American singer-songwriter Judee Sill’s plaintive, baroque ode to love. Big Thief are now moving up and away from their original starting position but thankfully not to some point where we can no longer easily recognise them.
Photo credit: Simon Godley