Credit: The Current

Review: Big Thief @ Barrowland Ballroom

By Fred Bruce

Nerves and the occasional false start do little to detract from Big Thief’s transcendent folk sound.

Beneath the excited buzz and familiar sweat-and-beer scent, there was an undeniable undercurrent of melancholy pervading the Barrowland this past Friday night. The bright neon of the ballroom’s signature sign marks an escape from the outside, but it is an increasingly difficult weight to shed, even temporarily.

It was this atmosphere that birthed Big Thief’s latest album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, and that the band looks to transport listeners away from. Edited down from an astounding forty-five tracks to a still-sprawling twenty, the album reflects its title perfectly: a slow-burning collection of indie-folk songs, tinged with enough experimentation that the hour-plus runtime feels fresh even in its closing moments.

Barring a select few, the setlist was populated primarily by cuts lifted from DNWMIBIY – a bold choice given the album released just two weeks earlier. It’s a credit to the band, then, that the sold-out Ballroom was held absolutely captivated from the tentative opening to the cathartic closing encore. Singles such as Simulation Swarm and Spud Infinity have been absorbed by Big Thief’s fans astonishingly quick, and their impeccable translation into a live setting make for an unforgettable experience. The fact that fan favourite anthems like Masterpiece elicit the same wave of adoration from an audience as any number of tracks from Big Thief’s latest offering is testament to the sheer quality of their material.

Dressed in a hoodie on the right of the stage is frontwoman Adrianne Lenker, a songwriter who, in a relatively short period, has proved herself to be one of the strongest musicians in the scene today. Her engrossing lyricism and shimmering vocals have been a highlight of Big Thief since their formation, perhaps more so on DNWMIBIY than any previous release. Her stage presence is one of vulnerability. She makes no secret of her nerves – especially given this is just the second gig of the new tour – and her endearing openness elevates the fragile balladry of the whole band’s sound. There is a real feeling of triumph and euphoria on the louder cuts like Red Moon, with Lenker’s vocals merging perfectly into the upbeat eccentricity of the country instrumental.

The setlist was occasionally marred by false starts and interruptions, most notably during the rendition of Contacts in the encore. Whether these were down to technical issues or simple nerves was unclear, however they failed to take away anything from the performance’s emotional potency. The sonic variety of DNWMIBIY manifested wonderfully on stage, ensuring that each track – including one never-before played offcut – kept the audience enchanted despite omitting some mainstays of their catalogue. A moving showcase of indie-folk brilliance, Big Thief’s output on and off-stage is one of the most exciting anywhere in music today.


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