Review: Big Thief @ Songbyrd


Online music conversation over the last few years has constantly—and annoyingly—questioned whether indie rock is dead, but the formidable lineup at Songbyrd Music House on March 25 was proof that the future is bright for emotional guitar music. All three bands on the bill are fronted by women aged 25 or younger, but there was even some age disparity amongst them. Snail Mail mastermind and local talent Lindsey Jordan is still in high school in Ellicott City and has recently been garnering a lot of buzz after a successful SXSW showing and an increase in visibility around her unstoppable track “Thinning.” She was complimentary while discussing the other acts, declaring Big Thief her “favorite band” and calling Palehound “the greatest band of our generation.” Ellen Kempner of Boston’s Palehound (who’s not much older at 22) also stressed her love for Big Thief’s music, saying that it was important to witness Big Thief frontwoman Adrianne Lenker just “exist.” There was a lot of mutual respect in the room between the young artists, a testament to the thriving DIY and independent music scene that continues to grow and strengthen within the DC-Philadelphia-New York-Boston stretch along the East Coast. Big Thief captivated the audience with a powerfully dynamic set that mostly drew from their debut album, Masterpiece, released last May. Though they have just one release, Big Thief has the chemistry and poise of a much more seasoned band. Maybe it’s because (according to their Bandsintown page) they have played roughly 150 shows in the 12 months. It could also be because they already finished recording their second album...almost a year ago! The band played off each other seamlessly, creating a heartier and version of the folk rock captured on record.

The most striking element of Lenker’s performance was how effortlessly she shifted between modes. Often, her light guitar strums were the only accompaniment for her voice, which sounded like it could crack and collapse at any moment. But it didn’t—she was in total control and the effect was an intimate warmth projected into the audience. Many of the songs yo-yoed between fast and slow, soft and loud. Within the different tones was a constant rawness in her piercing voice and overall presence. During the more rockin’ segments, Lenker’s singing was more urgent, drifting into growls and screeches before turning back to vulnerable whispers in the blink of an eye.

The small-to-big song structure was a staple throughout the night. Neither the jam sessions nor the stillness outshone the other and for a young band to have such versatility is promising for its career. During the opening notes of “Masterpiece,” I saw the members of Snail Mail and Palehound excitedly look around at each other before screaming along to every word. Big Thief hits home for other musicians and I suspect it’s because of the honesty that Adrianne Lenker radiates. She said in between songs, “sometimes it’s hard to talk about deep feelings, it’s easier to sing about them instead.”

By Nick Adams (@nadamsnadams)