Big Thief by michael buishas

Big Thief + Louis Abbott – The Hug and Pint, Glasgow (5th September 2016) – LIVE REVIEW

Walking into the Hug and Pint’s cosy basement venue, it becomes obvious just how thriving the Glasgow music scene is. Pretty much every trendy bar holds its own intimate live shows – Stereo will have Mitski and Nite Jewel this month; the Art School will squeeze in NAO, Jaguar Ma and Glass Animals after their graduate degree shows, while King Tutt’s have Catholic Action around the corner. But there’s something special about the Hug and Pint’s live offerings. The venue has brought in consistently brilliant acts over the past year, in a space that truly feels like Glasgow at its best.

Tonight is no different. Big Thief’s show is opened by Admiral Fallow’s Louis Abbott who delivers a crisp acoustic set that showcases lyrical power and delicate musicianship. He’s gotten about lately, playing with Rachel Sermanni during her recent tour, touring with his own band, and now he’s got the stage all to himself. Again, it’s easy to feel at home in these intimate spaces. (Glasgow’s artists seem to feel at home here too – CHVRCHES‘ Martin Doherty is having a curry upstairs, and there are a few other familiar faces dotted about the venue.) 

Fittingly, many of Abbott’s songs centre around home and what that means. He opens with ‘Building as Foreign’, a wandering song that captures that aching feeling no longer having a place to call home. His bandmate Sarah Hayes bobs onto the stage after several resonant finger-picked tunes. She was here headlining just a few weeks ago. Louie tells the small crowd that he only messaged her about performing with him at five o’clock, and they both share a laugh, before singing the first few notes of ‘Salt’. Hayes’s wistful harmony brings a new warmness to the set, the two singers coiling around each other’s melody in a way that could only be achieved with familiarity.  They close with ‘Evangeline’, a charming lullaby that benefits from the close harmonies and space they give to the story.

Big Thief’s set is just as gorgeous, but Adrianne Lenker‘s songs bring a sense of dangerous intimacy. The band’s off-kilter folk debut is one of the year’s great breakthroughs, and its raw quality is even more tangible in the live setting. Lenker’s dexterous guitar lines flit between tender and chaotic in the space of a single song, her sharp vocal cutting through everything. The lyrics mirror this mix of sweet and decrepit; she finds interesting ways to inject darkness and personality into her music.  

‘Real Love’ is a true standout, its earworm refrain melting into a shrill guitar breakdown that finds its way back to pretty textures by the end of the song. “Real love makes your lungs black/ real love is a heart attack” she screams with enough bite to make you truly believe her. Her longtime collaborator Buck Meek stands out on ‘Masterpiece’, where his twisting lead guitar keeps the feeling of danger at the forefront.

These are songs that are adventurous without ever getting in the way of the melodic power. On a beefed up version of ‘Velvet Ring’, James Krivchenia’s stomping drums propel the usually serene cut with a gasping sense of energy. ‘Animals’ is another highlight, where a darting time signature and brittle guitar lines make its sturdy pop hooks even more exhilarating. There’s a sturdy folk backbone to Big Thief, in their twangy vocals and in Lenker’s nuanced lyricism, but it’s the new colours the band bring to the formula that sets them apart.

The group are mesmeric on new single ‘Dandelion’, a peaceful, ambling tune with an anxious underbelly in Lenker’s cryptic lyrics. Even on this gentler offering, the band are undoubtedly themselves. They close with ‘Parallels’, a tense finisher that has the band squeezing new pieces of magic from its winding chord sequence, before reaching a panicked climax. Big Thief stole our hearts this year, and we can only hope they’ll be back soon.

This Big Thief review was written by Stephen Butchard, a GIGsoup Contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse. Images by Michael Buishas.

Big Thief by michael buishas