Photos and review by Morgan Ciocca.
Big Thief made their way to Chicago for a sold-out show at the Metro on Friday, Oct. 18, with openers Palehound.
Hailing from Brooklyn, NY, Big Thief is a four-piece folk rock group composed of lead vocalist and guitarist Adrianne Lenker, guitarist and vocalist Buck Meek, drummer James Krivchenia and bassist Max Oleartchik.
Big Thief puts their own unique spin on the, at times, overdone genre of folk rock in a way that has proven refreshing time and time again with the release of each of their four albums – three of which earned their place on Pitchfork’s list of “Best New Albums” the months of their release.
The group’s first album, “Masterpiece,” hit charts in 2016, followed by their 2017 sophomore release “Capacity,” and both “U.F.O.F.” and “Two Hands” this year – in May and October, respectively.
Big Thief took stage at the Metro on tour in support of their two 2019 albums this October, one week after their latest release. The band congregated in a semicircle formation – in order from left to right, Meek, Krivchenia, Oleartchik and Lenker – and immediately jumped into “Rock and Sing,” the entrancing acoustic opening track of “Two Hands.”
The members of Big Thief perform in a way that looks and feels effortless, but is attainable only through years of experience and ability. Radiating an air of happiness, the musicians smiled with, it seemed, pride at one another’s performances. They appear to have an immense appreciation for one another as individual musicians as well as bandmates; Big Thief doesn’t feel like a rock band in the usual way, more like a small community of four skilled musicians who decided to play a show together.
With eyes glued to the stage for the entirety of the set, audience members were entirely engrossed in the band’s performance. Meek, wearing a Big Thief t-shirt beneath his bright red puffer jacket, told the audience softly through a big smile they were the best crowd of the tour, to which he was met with cheers and yells of excitement from an eager audience.
The four musicians were fairly quiet throughout the set; when they did speak it was with soft, quiet tones, conveying a friendliness that made their intimidating musical abilities feel both astonishing and comforting.
Around midway through the set, Lenker, unprompted, exited the stage for Meek to perform a stripped down version of his newest single, a hauntingly sad and beautiful ballad about loss called “Halo Light.” The entire audience went quiet, absorbed by reverence as Meek performed alone under a singular spotlight.
Lenker, with the four guitars she switched back and forth between during her performance, particularly stood out as an unbelievably talented musician. Her abilities as a guitarist alone were even more jaw-dropping live than on recording, evident in the entire set but particularly the ambient wailing introduction to the full-length version of “Shark Smile,” an upbeat rock track off the band’s debut release in 2016.
Big Thief closed the intimate set with “Paul,” the group’s most-streamed song and arguably one of their most emotional. The audience erupted into cheers as “Paul”’s opening notes rang out, quickly immersed by Lenker and Meek’s ethereal vocals. In combination with the chilling lyrics of heartbreak and guitar riffs that shook the room, “Paul” closed the band’s set to a moment of silence like collective sigh of relief, leaving the band members just enough time to leave stage before the audience began crying out in demand for an encore.
The band obliged and returned to the stage to finish once and for all with “The Toy,” another intense and crooning rock track off of “Two Hands,” after which Big Thief left stage again – for good this time.
Though Big Thief played a set lasting nearly two hours, the audience was left wanting more. One Big Thief show is not nearly enough time for the band to perform every song listeners want to hear. But that’s part of the appeal of the band – while they certainly value their fans immensely, Big Thief plays their shows how they want to, and no two nights are ever the same.