Lo and behold, another year gone and another year’s slate of shows arrives. And so Lockeland’s 2017 slate of shows officially commenced, with a magnificent set from 2016 darlings, Big Thief.
Unless the recent election cycle propelled you to throw out any and all screens in your home – in which case, I would have to ask just how you’ve managed to arrive at this write up in the first place – then you’re likely familiar with Big Thief. At the absolute least, you may recognize their name from the slew of year-end lists their exquisite LP Masterpiece appeared on. It was truly one of the best records to premier in early 2016, and in turn a watershed moment (both literally and figuratively, but we’ll arrive at the former later) for Big Thief.
Of the bands that “broke” in 2016 – Pinegrove, Whitney, Sunflower Bean, countless others – Big Thief seems to be the most oft forgot of the bunch (on paper, at least). Perhaps it was the first half of the year release (May), but nevertheless, the repentant and insular songs off Masterpiece have prevailed. When the Brooklyn band rolled through Nashville on January 14, there was no shortage of fervent support.
Following an excellent opening set from fellow stalwarts Sam Evian, the High Watt was all but at capacity by the time Big Thief took the stage. In what was an unfamiliar – and initially disheartening – move, only Adrianne, Max, and James took the stage. The band’s fourth member, guitarist Buck Meek, was precariously absent. Thankfully, Adrianne eventually got around to addressing the new-formed threesome, saying that Buck took a brief detour from the band’s tour to visit with his brother. Disaster averted, and just to clarify in case I’ve managed to confuse –which I am liable to do – Big Thief is STILL a four-piece.
So, roll call out of the way, let’s get back to the actual set. As referenced earlier, Masterpiece was no doubt a watershed moment, both in the career and emotional sense. From the onset of the show, Big Thief had the crowd absolutely and unequivocally enraptured in the set. During the occasional decrescendo or quiet moment, the tapping of an unmuted iPhone could be heard, as the High Watt was entirely reverential and predisposed by Big Thief’s beguiling performance.
The first moment of near perfect synchronicity between band and crowd came during “Real Love.” Already visceral in its own right, the live version of the track forced the crowd to embrace the full scope of the song. Riding alongside Adrianne as she returns to past experiences veiled by music and lyrics referencing “O Mamma, O Pappa/How much blood is worth the draw?” Its visceral and insular stuff that really, truly, deeply affects Adrianne that others would never imagine sharing.
There was an eventual decrescendo that led into a vicious and raucous outro. All in all, the track and its coinciding performance were all but representative of Big Thief’s set as a whole. Or more specifically, Big Thief invites their audiences to run the emotional gamut in the most frenetic of ways.
Rather than administer a blow-by-blow account of what was the first great show in Nashville of 2017, perhaps its best to remain broader in scope. Big Thief’s songs are highly relatable, evoking a sense of empathy most other artists in their (or any) generation would do unspeakable things to retain similar qualities. The majority of the set is highly insular for every party involved, but most notably Adrianne.
It took the slightest of fumbles to finally bring Adrienne to make her initial acknowledgment of the audience, in which she simply replied “Hey,” and dropped back into “Lorraine.” It was apparent (and incredibly endearing) that Adrianne would rather spare words and continue with performing thane exchange witty banter. When songs opened quietly before entering a raucous chorus the only thing heard outside of Adrianne’s winsome warble were the clicks of opening beer can tops.
All in all, Big Thief’s set was the best set of 2017 to date, which will not seem nearly as dubious a title in the coming months when it undoubtedly remains the best show to come through Nashville for some time. Adrianne, Max, and James (and eventually Buck, when he reunites with the band) have managed to craft a truly spellbinding live set that will no doubt stun and beguile audiences everywhere.