11/17/16 – Spotify Boston Office

“I’ve been imagining all of you have no bodies,” Big Thief front lady Adrianne Lenker informed her crowd. “It’s like imagining people in their underwear. But you’re just floating… stuff.”

The gathered floating stuff were all diligent Big Thief listeners—or Spotify followers, at least. They were personally invited via email to watch the gig in Spotify’s office cafeteria. One audience member even drove in from Pennsylvania.

It was the perfect place for an intimate show: the cafeteria had a conveniently large stage, kegs were placed next to the coffee machine, and speakers were placed next to a display of drawings from Spotify’s 2016 Take Your Kids to Work Day. Tables were pushed to the side and string lights illuminated the space.

Big Thief is a four-piece Brooklyn outfit that evolved from Buck and Anne, a duo of Lenker and guitarist Buck Meek. The band has been enjoying a steady rise since the May release of their first album, Masterpiece. “All Songs Considered” included them in their “Best New Artists of the Year (So Far)” episode (voted by listeners) in June. Fresh off national tours supporting Yuck and Frankie Cosmos, Big Thief will headline a tour at the beginning of 2017, including a January date at Brighton Music Hall.

That Thursday night, Big Thief was front and center, backed up by New York band Dirty Dishes, a three-piece that played straightforward alt-rock embellished with a heavy dose of distortion and augmented by the vibrantly colored video projections behind them. The drummer’s enthusiastic playing stood out most through the series of often repetitive, riff-driven songs.

The simplicity of Dirty Dishes’ music contrasted with Big Thief’s songs and highlighted the artful composition of Lenker’s songwriting. Her lyrics feel personal and poetic and the instrumentation, while riff-driven, is more rhythmically complex and multilayered. Lenker’s slight and breathy recorded voice remains just as lovely live, but becomes more raw and powerful, reflecting the band’s radiating energy. From jumping guitar powwows in the middle of the stage to the quickened tempo of nearly every song they played, the group’s excellent chemistry builds upon their recorded material. 

The gig covered almost the entirety of Masterpiece, opening with “Little Arrow.” Lenker showed real emotional bite in “Vegas,” screaming the lyric, “and I asked you again,” before expanding into “Velvet Ring,” a song that grows from a single guitar to include the whole band. The group exaggerated each acceleration and deceleration throughout the song, but when it came time to play their standout single, “Masterpiece,” Lenker took a moment to discuss the song partly responsible for their recent ascent. “It’s nice how this song keeps turning over new meaning,” she said, pausing. “It’s nice that it feels good to play.” The band finished with an emotional rendition of “Paul,” and left the stage amid yells and claps for an encore.

After a few moments of rowdy darkness, Lenker reappeared looking uncertain. Taking requests from the audience, the band rounded out the gig with “Indiana,” a song from Lenker’s solo days, “Animals,” and a song that’s “new enough to call new.” This last tune—a lilting love song with country undertones—is a taste of Big Thief’s future sound, coming soon on their next LP this May. While they seem destined for larger venues, the band is equally at home in an intimate office cafeteria. 

A Big Thief in a Small Space
Pros
  • Intimate venue
  • Big Thief really came to life on stage
  • Jumping guitar powwows
Cons
  • Lackluster opener
  • Space was arguably too small for the sound system used
8Overall Score

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