Big Thief performed a sold-out hometown show on March 1st at Brooklyn Steel, the penultimate show on their current tour. It’s always nice to roll up to Steel and not see a massive tour bus parked by the stage door, usually evidence of locals who’s done well for themselves. Even though members of Big Thief hail from all over the US (bassist Max Oleartchik is from Israel) the band is ostensibly a Brooklyn one, having formed and being currently based here. Their music has also had an indelible effect on the sound and songwriters that call the borough home. The pre-show energy was electric, like a city awaiting the return of its conquering heroes.
Big Thief, consisting of Adrianne Lenker, Buck Meek, Max Oleartchik, and James Krivchenia, has always been forward-thinking and willing to challenge themselves musically. They write songs that could be identified as an electrified indie-folk to the uninitiated, but the band is more than willing to play with form, and their idiosyncratic phrasings and melodies make their music instantly recognizable as their own. The opened with one such number, “Ruined,” an unreleased song and sweet meditation of a love song that featured Lenker’s breathy vocals and Meek’s masterful guitar swirls. It’s telling that they opened with this, one of four unreleased songs they performed that night, as they are clearly in a very productive phase. The band usually averages an album every two years, though they released two in 2019, the acclaimed U.F.O.F and Two Hands, and their latest, the wonderful Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is a double album they released in 2022.
After “Ruined” the first half of the band’s set focused on this latest release, including the songs “Flower of Blood,” “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You,” “Blurred View,” and “Simulation Swarm.” These renditions breathed electricity into the live-in, sun-bleached album versions, giving me a new appreciation for them. This energy carried on into earlier album cuts. Older songs, “Masterpiece” for example, have become sharper, both tighter and more jagged, careening before regaining composure and falling back on four wheels, like a stunt driver making a well-worn corner. “Cattails” bounced along merrily before also speeding up in the second half, not quite taking off, but elevated and with added flourishes by Meek.
Big Thief at Brooklyn Steel
Matt Davidson, who performed pedal steel in Buck Meek’s opening set, also joined for a number of songs on the violin and flute, adding a new dimension to these tracks. He brought something else to the band as well: the rule that if you wrote a song on the road you had to play it live, cause for their performance of “Born For Loving You,” a song Lenker said was written in Florida, inspired by the pop-country songs blasting from out of beach parked pick-up truck (another rule that Davidson brought to the band was that anyone is allowed to flip a table at some point in their life, no questions asked. Lenker quickly assured the crowd that no one in the band had taken their free pass yet). Other highlights in the set were my (and Obama’s) favorite song “Not,” the new “Vampire Empire,” which Big Thief debuted on Colbert, and “Spud Infinity” (“that’s my Grandma!”) which featured a guest appearance by Adrienne’s brother Noah who joined the band on jaw harp (an instrument I’d never heard of before which makes a boing song and is “very country” according to my friend).
Overall, the band fulfilled their well-warranted excitement and no one went home disappointed (well, maybe the guy who kept shouting that the band play “Shark Smile.” Lenker politely told him they would not be, and he was also shouted down by someone who yelled, to applause, “play whatever you want!”). Based on the band’s continued creative output it remains a very exciting time to be a Big Thief fan.
Buck Meek of the band performed an electrifying, full band set to open the night.
Scroll down for setlist, fan shot videos, pics of the show (photos by Emilio Herce)
Setlist: Ruined, Flower for Blood, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, Blurred View, Simulation Swarm, Masterpiece, Cattails, Certainty, Happiness, Dried Roses, Vampire Empire, Not, Born For Loving You, Spud Infinity Encore: Change