Live Review: Big Thief at Usher Hall

5 mins read

Brooklyn-based indie folk band Big Thief took Edinburgh’s Usher Hall by storm last Thursday, April 6, when they brought songs from their newest album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, among some old favourites, to the capital’s most iconic venue. Fronted by vocalist Adrienne Lenker, the audience was held gleefully captive on a musical journey through bluegrass belters to heavy metal head-bangers.

Adrienne Lenker and Big Thief take to the stage in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall. Image credit: Robbie McAvenue

The group were supported by fellow Brooklynite L’Rain, a multi-instrumentalist whose dreamlike vocals and hazy melodies left the packed concert venue entranced. L’Rain, whose previous album Fatigue was released in 2021, refuses to pigeonhole her sound into any particular musical scene, as evidenced by her performance’s genre-bending spiral into the avant-garde. The singer’s leftfield blends of smooth R&B with guitar freakout psychedelia left spectators in awe and set the tone for a night of music outside of the mainstream.

Support act L’Rain during one of her guitar solos. Image credit: Robbie McAvenue

The band kicked the night off with the beautifully slowed-down Terminal Paradise, taken off of Lenker’s 2018 solo album Abysskiss. Although the lullaby-ish tune may have sent the crowd to sleep, the band swiped the rug from under the crowd’s feet as they performed Time Escaping from their latest album. The exhilarating performance kicked the show into high-gear. Guitarist Buck Meek’s fingerpicking work proved the group’s abilities as experimentalists, injecting a burst of weird Americana into the memorable tune.

Adrienne Lenker in conversation with her Scottish fans was nothing short of hilarious. The singer, no doubt slightly exhausted from touring across Europe and the U.K., had a good go at scraping together something nice to say about the city of Edinburgh: “It’s very large and very cool… it has a lot of stone in it. There are nice mountains here and I want to know what’s in them”. Lenker’s deadpan sense of humour made up for her lack of Scottish knowledge.

One of the show’s highlights was the band’s performance of fan favourite Simulation Swarm, a heartfelt, anthemic track that the crowd sang word-for-word. Lenker’s passion while singing Sparrow, a song that yearns for simpler times, was inescapable. You could feel emotion flowing through the crowd as old fans and recent listeners alike sang their hearts out.

The band perform the infectious ‘Simulation Swarm’. Image credit: Robbie McAvenue

Lenker and her bandmates made the night even more exciting by subverting fans’ expectations, contorting some of their better-known songs into altogether different genres. Zombie Girl, from Lenker’s 2020 solo album Songs, recorded in the studio as a slow folk ballad, was transformed into an upbeat line-dance. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, another slower song of theirs, became a metal-inspired funeral march.

Big Thief’s instrumentation during ‘Zombie Girl’ blew the roof off of the venue. Image credit: Robbie McAvenue

The night didn’t come without its surprises either. Fainting spells amidst the crowd’s standing section meant that one song had to be cut short. To ensure that fans of Big Thief could be properly taken care of, Lenker had to ask for house lights to be turned up nearer the end of the show. Despite this, the band still pulled through to deliver an exceptional performance, shocking everyone during the show’s encore with a brand-new song Already Lost before closing the show off with the foot-stomping Spud Infinity. The country-infused track’s electric energy made the crowd’s bodies move – other than their elbows, of course.

Feature Image credit: Robbie McAvenue

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Student journalist who loves good music and cheesy reality television.

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