Going to church on a Saturday night isn’t my normal idea of fun, but Big Thief’s show at the Irenic was an exception.
We waltzed through the doors of The Irenic at 7pm to see all sign of pews and religious accoutrements gone from North Park’s Missiongathering Church, and them being replaced with a bustling crowd of music-goers. The Irenic opens its doors to an all-ages crowd; normally all this is good for is to make you feel a bit older than normal, but on this evening it led to a diverse crowd that had the concert feeling like a genuine community event. The slowly brewing sunset leaking through the stained-glass windows lent a hand to this wholesome vibe. As the night progressed, the charmingly homegrown musicality of Big Thief and Lomelda worked to match the understated ambience of the Irenic.
Up first was Lomelda, stage-name of singer-songwriter Hannah Read. Read is queen of the short-and-sweet, largely playing short ditties of a minute or two – just enough for intrigue to set in before moving onto the next tune. These short melodies feel like a collection of snapshots, snippets portraying a sense of emotion rather than relying on a tried-and-true, artificial song structures. Sat on a stool, Read hunched over an acoustic guitar, playing and singing with the minimal backing of a drum-kit. Sometimes her voice reflected this diminutive presence, as she whispered a half-memory to the crowd. But sometimes, as in Interstate Vision, Read’s voice shone out with unexpected precision and force, navigating its way through a melody equal parts unpredictable and familiar.
Up next was Big Thief, the Brooklyn four-piece led by singer and guitarist Adrianne Lenker. Lenker’s unmistakable voice, with its lilting, melodic leaps and insistent falsetto, is prone to captivate attention. This captivation manifested in somber, pin-drop silences between songs, as if the crowd was hanging on any sound from the stage with religious fervor.
The beauty of Big Thief’s music is the rich textural layers that underpin and support Lenker’s voice: from elegantly fingerpicked guitar to Buck Meek’s twangy harmonizatons to James Krivchenia’s tendency to create subtle shifts between time signatures on the drums. The full-band rendition of Adrianne Lenker’s solo piece from exemplified this perfectly. In short, Big Thief managed to blend the approachable charm of indie folk with an attention to detail that left their performance feeling full to the brim.