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Saturday, July 08, 2017

GURNETT: Big Thief steals hearts at the Tralf

All WNY News     Saturday, July 08, 2017    


Brooklyn-based indie rock band Big Thief rolled into The Tralf on Thursday, June 29th in support of their new, critically acclaimed album, Capacity. While the crowd wasn’t very large, the band delivered a huge performance.

Opening the night was Twain, a solo act from Virginia. His guitar work was minimalist with a heavy Bon Iver influence. His soaring vocals -- a pretty voice with a decent falsetto -- reminded me of James’s Tim Booth and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. That being said, he would have benefited from having any form of backing band. While proficient in both guitar and vocals, many of Twain’s songs sounded too similar, and the overall effect of just a guy and a guitar felt sparse. Big Thief’s Buck Meek came onstage to do backing vocals for Twain’s final song, which helped, but otherwise the set felt bland and repetitive. The lyrics, overly simplistic and on-the-nose to a fault, did little to elevate to the scant overall feeling (something else a backing band might have helped cover). From where I sat, the audience looked bored, clearly waiting for Big Thief to take the stage.

After a brief break between sets, the lights dimmed and the crowd of a couple hundred pushed towards the stage, breaking into applause as Big Thief vocalist Adrianne Lenker emerged from backstage. I can’t say enough good things about Lenker. Her vocals held real emotion and her energetic guitar parts featured the occasional just-right amount of dissonance. Combined with her adorable shyness and awkwardness as she spoke between songs, she was completely endearing.

The set started with Lenker and guitarist Meek performing a pair of songs by themselves. Lenker’s soprano pixie voice is beautiful on Big Thief’s new record and even better live. It’s reminiscent of other indie rock acts like Mazzy Star, The Weepies, and Stars.
They were then joined by bassist Max Oleartchik and drummer James Krivchenia, who make for a great rhythm section. Highlighted by great sound by the sound guy, the throb of the bass along with the syncopation and dynamics of the drums added to the power of the set.

The band played a mix of songs from their first album (Masterpiece), second album (the just-released Capacity), and new material. Whether the songs were quiet and loud, Lenker owned the stage. You could hear the sincerity in her voice with every note she sang. The band’s energy was contagious and could be felt in the whole room; people were having a blast. The crowd roared with applause at the end of each song, quickly moving to expectant silence in anticipation for the next song. The band seemed appreciative, with Lenker joking at one point about how quiet the crowd was between songs.


Big Thief released their first two albums on Saddle Creek, the same label that was previously home to Rilo Kiley and Cursive and is still home to Bright Eyes. Saddle Creek has long been a source of reliably good, interesting indie rock, and Big Thief is a perfect fit. Their approach seems similar to Rilo Kiley’s: beautiful vocals; intertwining, intricate, and sometime dissonant guitar parts; a solid rhythm section that makes the whole thing sparkle; and a tiny bit of country jangle. I loved Rilo Kiley’s The Execution of All Things and really miss that band, but I’ve found a satisfying replacement in Big Thief. If their first two albums and performance at The Tralf are any indication, they might actually be better.


Ryan Gurnett has a B.S. in Music Industry from The College of St Rose. He has worked as a studio engineer, live sound engineer, producer and sound editor and has been a musician for 25 years. He is currently the bassist for The Lady, or the Tiger?. Email him at never_really_been@hotmail.com or find him on Twitter @SirWilliamIdol.

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