Photos and words by Misha
My favorite parts of Big Thief‘s show were when Adrianne Lenker couldn’t find her words.
It happened first when she thanked the night’s opening act, Henry Jamison. She spoke softly, almost haltingly, about how special it is to play with such a talented musician and be part of his sharing his craft with the world. She sort of paused halfway through. “It sounds really flat when I say it,” she reflected.
“I guess it’s not really a words kind of thing.”
And then the band launched into “Parallels”, one of my favorite songs from their debut album, Masterpiece.
But Lenckers words stuck with me through the song and into the rest of the band’s set.
It seemed to illuminate some central truths about words and also about music. There’s lots of stuff in life that’s too big, small, wonderful, or terrible for description. For instance, I once tried to tell a friend about how I genuinely believe a Carly Rae Jepsen song saved my life. The picture was so vividly profound in my mind but only a few inadequate words into the story I was already losing her. I trailed off somewhere between bewildered nods and muttered apologies, leaving her and I both confused about what was so damn special about this song. Turns out it wasn’t really a words kind of a thing.
I can’t relate to being a touring musician. I can’t really imagine how special it is to share that journey. But when I heard Big Thief play “Parallels” I came closer to understanding what playing music means to them. I heard raw yearning in the sharpened edges of their live performance. Songs like “Humans” took on new meaning when I saw the intensity and commitment behind the band’s eyes during their solos.
It was especially rewarding to see the band play some of their unreleased songs. Previously unheard lyrics, the tenderness in Lenker’s voice as she sang about “falling like needles, the passage of time” hit like a brick wall, giving me something to turn over in my mind for days to come.
Towards the end of the set, Lenker seemed to feel duty-bound to wrap the show up with something heartfelt. She regarded the mic the way I used to approach the cool kids table at lunch. “I feel like I haven’t said much tonight,” she remarked. “So I feel like it’s time to say…” – and there was a pause long enough to be memorable – “nothing else.”
The band finished with a song to honor International Women’s Day that included the remarkable lyric, “There is a meeting between my thighs wherein thunder and lightning, men are baptized,” leaving little need to say anything further.