Big Thief

support Katie Von Schleicher
author LL date 25/10/17 venue Jazzhouse, Copenhagen, DEN

I initially found out about the indie rock band Big Thief via their stellar performance on NPR's excellent Tiny Desk series online and thus I was intrigued when I saw they had a new album out this year ("Capacity") as well as a European tour on the way. While somewhat of a smaller indie rock name to me, a Danish newspaper has somehow picked them up and maybe that's part of the reason why the show tonight is completely sold out. As I arrive around the announced beginning of the concert, there's not a whole lot of people present, however, but they quickly start filling up the venue for the next fifteen minutes before the support of the evening appears.

All pictures by Michael Hyldgaard Løgtholt

Katie Von Schleicher

As more people start to crowd the room, singer-songwriter Katie Von Schleicher and a backing musician walk on stage. While her music is very rounded and dark indie on record, tonight we get a more raw duo constellation even though they usually play as a four-piece, as she informs us later on. She sings and changes between playing guitar and synthesizers while her bandmate Adam supports her on guitar and backing vocals, even adding a reverb-laden solo at one point. Between them, they fill out the room sonically but for some of the more jumpy songs they start out with, like "Paranoia", it's obvious that other instruments were probably intended to flesh them out. The atmosphere of Schleicher's music is very similar to that of Big Thief, especially her vulnerable vocal delivery, and thus the set works well in setting the mood for what comes next. However, as an unknown act to, it seems, everyone in the venue tonight, it would be nice for them to take more control of the situation and lead us into their music with a little presentation here and there. Instead, they aren't saying a whole lot in between songs, apart from how they're tired from driving all day, resulting in a few longer silences here and there making them come off as a little inexperienced or shy and, obviously, tired. It's a shame that the lyrics aren't always very clearly pronounced seeing as they seem to be just as important here as they are for Big Thief's work. Still, the duo makes the most of the instruments they do have with them and manage to play a few songs that stand out amongst each other, making me interested enough that I go home and check up on their releases the next day.

Big Thief

When Big Thief take the stage next, they appear as a trio with vocalist Adrianne Lenker playing the guitar while supported by two bandmates on drums and bass. Just like their support band tonight, they are usually four in the group and thus their music also takes on a different quality in this set-up. But for this band, it's not like anything is missing. Rather, we get one of the most intimate shows I've seen yet with Lenker's captivating voice clearly shaping every word and placed perfectly in front of the mix throughout. They start out with the soft-spoken and mysterious "Pretty Things" and soon arrive at the more forceful single "Masterpiece" from the debut album that brought them their first surge of attention. Lenker's lyrics are full of gems and her delivery of them easily hits us right in the gut during the contrast of sweet melodic lines with words like "Having your face hit / Having your lip split / By the one who loves you / Real love makes your lungs black / Real love is a heart attack" from the excellent "Real Love".

Big Thief is the kind of band that really plays together on stage and thus the set tonight is refreshing as they often seem to dive into shorter jamlike sessions while still tightly controlling the shape of the songs. Lenker gets several acapella moments that leave us with goosebumps and all three of them rock out throughout the set, looking like they're living and breathing the music that comes out of their movements. Especially the group's drummer plays meticulously, providing very dynamic beats even as he never steals the show. The warm song "Randy", the newer single "Mythological Beauty", and especially the rhythmically complex "Great White Shark" work really well in a live setting and stand out to me later on. The trio also plays a couple of new songs that I find myself genuinely looking forward to having a recorded version of someday as they make an impact pretty much as strong as the songs I'm already familiar with tonight - no small feat.

They end with an encore consisting of the dreamy "Parallels" and "Paul" with the instantly recognizable chorus: "I'll be your morning bright goodnight shadow machine / I'll be your record player baby if you know what I mean / I'll be your real tough cookie with the whiskey breath / I'll be a killer and a thriller and the cause of our death". As a sort of culmination of her otherwise mostly calm singing, Lenker dives into a couple of final energetic howls away from the microphone and screams as she plays her last guitar parts. The show is not all perfect, though, as a song like "Shark Smile" suffers a little with its tempo halved, making it blander than with the usual driving force of its rhythm. The moving ballad "Mary" is going too fast, on the other hand, the quick-paced words of the chorus almost falling over each other as they come out of Lenker's mouth, taking away from its spell-binding effect a bit. Still, these are relatively minor problems in a set that is filled with quality songs played by musicians that have an exceptional feel for the sensitivity in the music they perform for us and overall, it is a solid experience.

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