Concert Review: Big Thief – Charlottesville, VA
March 8, 2023
There wasn’t an ounce of regret during my 4-and-a-half round trip drive to Charlottesville to visit Adrianne Lenker and company last Sunday. I somehow missed that Big Thief were embarking on another US tour– I sadly missed them last year following the release of their fifth album (and my favorite album of 2022) Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You and they had recently finished their Australia/Asia tour. As soon as I saw that they were coming within spitting distance, I bought a ticket immediately. Unfortunately, by the time I told my friends to come along, the prices went up by $100, (thanks Ticketmaster) so I went on this little concert daytrip solo.
The fact that I saw Big Thief alone didn’t take away from the experience at all, though. Sure, having my friends there would have been great, but it made the indie folk and rock quartet’s tunes all the more meditative. The predominant rhythm guitarist of the group was also the opening act, as Buck Meek got the chance to explore some of his own songs with a crowd that already loved his work with the band. This is the first time I recall a band doing this, I’m not sure why more don’t. Meek’s set definitely leaned more towards alt-country and americana– his accompanying pedal steel guitarist totally stole the show and even got a “love the pedal steel, man” from a crowd member. The Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville is intimate enough that the pedal steel enthusiast got a response from the stage.
Some of the tracks on Big Thief’s last record crossed into alt-country territory, among many many other things. But when Buck Meek returned to the stage, this time with lead singer/guitarist Adrianne Lenker, bassist Max Oleartchik, and drummer James Krivchenia, the songs they played from their 20 track opus were often the heaviest and most fuzzed out. The sound in the venue compressed everything into a shoegaze-esque wall of sound. The warm and cathartic folk put their rock and roll sensibility on full display. Lenker’s presence alternated between entranced zen state for her distorted solos and playful chatter with the audience between songs. It encapsulated the sheer versatility of the band who can both tug on heartstrings and jam unimaginably hard.
The aforementioned Lenker zen state was most prominent in the tracks “Flower of Blood”, “Not” and a headbanging rock version of “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You,” a song that is, contrarily, a serene psychedelic folk journey in the studio version. Along with Lenker’s commanding stage presence, the band’s noisier sonic direction brought upon much more expressive drumming from Krivchenia than I was anticipating. He had Ringo levels of synergy with the other band members– never overstepping, always in time, and constantly bobbing that noggin. It wasn’t all heavy hitters though. One of the three unreleased songs that the band played was about as simple a four-chord acoustic song can get. The delight of the crowd hearing unreleased material along with Lenker’s self-described “silly” backstory behind its inception made “Born For Loving You” one of the more wholesome moments of the set.
The other two unreleased songs “Horsepower” and “Vampire Empire” were personal favorites of mine. I felt the buzz of the band playing these songs for people who had never heard them 10 rows back. Additionally, Adrianne Lenker professed her love with touring support musician Mat Davidson (performing under the name Twain) who even came out with his violin for a few songs. That announcement certainly got oohs and ahs from the crowd.
Big Thief closed an unforgettable night in the most fitting way possible. They played their bounciest and most bluegrass forward tune to end the set– “Spud Infinity” had the whole ensemble groovin’ and the whole crowd movin’. Their encore was the opening track of Dragon, the steady and soothing “Change” as well as the band’s first breakout single “Masterpiece.” Whether she was shredding or serenading, Adrianne Lenker showed why she’s one of the best songwriters and frontwomen in the game right now, and she was every bit as charming as I hoped she’d be. The drive was twice as long as both sets were, but a yummy pulled pork sandwich plus a wonderful show made seeing Big Thief well worth it.
Buck Meek – Second Sight
Big Thief – Flower of Blood
My Bloody Valentine – Sometimes
Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
Twain – Solar Pilgrim
Big Thief – Spud Infinity
Big Thief – Masterpiece