Big Thief @ SWG3, Glasgow, 19 May
Big Thief's return to Glasgow is an extraordinary performance of warmth, colour and quiet power
The concrete interior of SWG3 TV Studio is mostly soulless, bare – but Big Thief rise to the challenge of making it their own, the stage adorned with greenery and flowers. The effect is not unlike the cover of their newly released record U.F.O.F., which depicts the four-piece lounging in the grass, sunlight casting an almost alien haze over the scene.
Big Thief, despite the almost palpable intimacy of their sound, always retain a kind of respectful distance from their audience; but far from being a negative this only adds to their dreamlike aura. As a band they are so unified, so in-sync with each other it's almost intimidating, and to witness a band of this calibre perform is nothing short of a blessing.
Adrianne Lenker’s voice is something of a paradox – simultaneously polished and raw; fragile and strong. On stage she is fascinating, demanding nothing but somehow commanding everybody’s attention. But Big Thief operate as a unit; they are greater than the sum of their parts. "Everyone has their ego pretty much removed", explains Lenker in an interview with Pitchfork, which is evidenced tonight even by the way they position themselves on stage – everyone is in sight, Lenker on the far right-hand side.
They work effortlessly through such classics as Shark Smile, Paul and Mythological Beauty, much to the delight of the crowd. The band’s comfort with the songs in no way diminishes the power or passion of the songs, which are as irresistible as if they were being heard for the first time. The new record’s opener – the peculiarly, almost uncomfortably intimate Contact – is a surprising highlight. 'Wrap me in silk / I want to drink your milk', Lenker laments dreamily, finishing the song with screams from deep in her chest. Guitarist Buck Meek performs one of his own delicious ballads, an unreleased track called Pareidolia, filling the room with his impossibly mellow, gently yodelling voice.
Always surprising, never apologetic, they play several brand new songs without feeling the need to introduce them. While the word ‘perfect’ is almost always an overstatement, Big Thief’s discography exudes a certain flawlessness which suggests the tracklist is a selection of a much more expansive body of work. They seem unwilling to rush their music, to pander to fans or meet with expectations. The anxious, stormy Not is frequently found in live sets but has not yet made it onto a Big Thief record. The band perform it here with aching fervour, Buck Meek shaking his head as he yells the entirely negated lyrics: 'Not the planet that's spinning / Not a ruse, not heat / Not the fire lapping up the creek'.
While watching Big Thief perform, two things become clear. Firstly, they are one of the most ferociously talented bands currently in existence; and secondly, they don’t make music to please anyone. They make it for themselves, for each other, and it is made out of need, out of love.