The music of Big Thief conjures up several images. The lyrics and smooth cadence of singer/songwriter Adrianna Lenker have a dark overlay that reminds me of Chelsea Wolfe while having a lofty airiness reminiscent of Mitski. As anyone who listens to the Brooklyn band should attest, Big Thief’s music has cohesiveness to it, like a team that’s intimately familiar with one another. Their music comes through as refined by the osmosis-like process of crafting an album of emotional stories that illustrate lost love, pain and the masterpiece of life.
Framed under a pine canopy and flanked by the picturesque dam after which the DAM JAM festival is named, the Denmark Arts Center hosted Big Thief and a handful of other spirited performances on August 6, 2016. Lenker took the stage adorned in a flowing black dress along with bass player Max Oleartchik, guitarist Buck Meek and drummer James Krivchenia. The quartet greeted the festival and then swiftly dove into their debut album, Masterpiece.
In my opinion, Real Love is probably the most solid track off of the album, both live and studio. The warm August air carried the voice of Lenker; the tranquil tempo set by the front woman contradicted the provocative lyrics of the track. In Real Love, Lenker sings a succinct yet gripping account of the struggle and pain, literal and figurative, that can accompany love. My excitement grew in anticipation of the song’s second half which was split by Lenker and Meek’s sharp, punchy guitars. The open air venue complemented Krivchenia’s already impactful percussion, invigorating the folk-rock portion of song, making it more dramatic and resonant.
Following their set, Krivchenia explained, perhaps reflecting on his strong performance, that Real Love is his favorite song to play from Masterpiece. When asked about the band’s review by NPR earlier this year, the drummer alluded to the fact that they’d recently played a Tiny Desk set which would available within the near future (Yes!!).
I was surprised when the band split their set by showcasing the surprising vocal range of guitarist and singer/songwriter Buck Meek. Throughout the set, Buck’s singing complemented Adrianne’s, but it was a different experience entirely to hear Meek’s voice alone hewing the atmosphere of the festival. Singing of an estranged best friend, the guitarist provided the festival crowd with yet another memorable and meaningful checkpoint of the Big Thief show.
A highlight of the evening was Paul, the track which, in retrospect, tied Real Love for first place at the festival. By this point, Big Thief had built tangible momentum. For this reason, Paul was perfectly timed. The song has catchy choruses and verses that weave a vivid narrative of a whiskey-breathed, thrilling love that could have been. The song sounded practiced yet candid, capturing some of my favorite qualities of music that is quite good without sounding manufactured or imposing. Listen yourself and you’ll see why it felt natural to sway back and forth throughout Paul’s choruses. The icing on the cake was my favorite guitar solo of the show which bisects the song.
There’s a lot to be written about Big Thief’s performance this past August 6th (and all other artists that made DAM JAM spectacular). There will undoubtedly be more praise written as the band continues. Each song played held something for indie and folk lovers, from the title track to treats such as the band’s dual performance with another of the show’s stellar artists, Cantina. Big Thief is affiliated with the Omaha, NE record label, Saddle Creek. Masterpiece is available on Saddle Creek’s online store, iTunes and Spotify; also check it out on band camp. Big Thief will continue their tour through the UK and Amsterdam before returning to the US on September 23.
Of course, there could be no mention of the DAM JAM without also giving credit to Adam Schatz, lead singer of Landlady, who did a killer job curating the event. Keep up the amazing work Adam, both on and off the stage. Please follow the links below Mr. Schatz’s photo to see the other excellent bands that made the DAM JAM so wonderful.
Landlady – http://landladyband.tumblr.com/
TEEN – http://www.teentheband.net/
Cantina – https://www.facebook.com/CantinaMusic/?pnref=story
The Westerlies – http://www.westerliesmusic.com/
Ada – https://adamaine.bandcamp.com/