By Erika Kindsfather
On tour for a long while now with dates lined up through mid-November, Big Thief returned to Montreal last night for a set at Bar Le Ritz PBD. Having last played here in November of 2016, it was exciting to see the band return, especially after the release of their sophomore album, Capacity. A crowd had already formed by the time openers See Through Dresses started, only to grow to what looked like capacity when Big Thief took the stage around 11:30pm. What followed was a beautifully curated set speckled with songs old and new and striking across the board.
Big Thief’s set started off with Adrienne Lenker alone on acoustic guitar and vocals, the other band members taking a knee as she played “Mary.” Lenker’s voice was captivating and the song hypnotic, kicking off the set with strong command. Lenker transferred to electric guitar and following some difficulty with the snare drum, the group transitioned into “Shark Smile”, another tune from their latest album. The live version was expectedly not as refined as the album, but delightful nonetheless.
“Vegas” from the group’s first album Masterpiece followed and was stunning live. Lenker seemed to glow on the dimly lit stage and Buck Meek danced with his guitar, making visible their intimate connection to the music they create. Equally beautiful was “Shoulders,” a song on neither of their albums nor their 7” but definitely worth a listen. “Masterpiece” greeted the crowd and was met with enthusiasm as many audience members mouthed, “You saw the masterpiece/ she looks a lot like me.” Notable is Buck Meek’s guitar skills, and the fact that he always looks like he is having a blast onstage.
“Great White Shark” and “Black Diamonds” off Capacity followed. Crisp drums by virtue of James Krivchenia shown through especially, and Lenker’s vocal were strong in command. The set slowed down with “Parallels,” an emotional ballad with robust vocal lead. The guitar was noticeably rougher and less psychedelic than the song’s album version, but complemented Lenker’s raw, emotional vocals effortlessly. The song following I was not able to identify off of any album, but Lenker’s vocals were intense and captivating, with Joanna Newsom-esque qualities in her manner of articulation.
“Capacity” featured crisp and calculated drums followed by “Real Love,” which seemed to be a crowd favorite. A combination of rock-heavy instrumentals and moving vocals, it was a delight to see performed live. The set ended with “Mythological Beauty,” which was exciting to hear live and was met with much energy from the crowd.
After unyielding applause from the audience, Lenker returned to the stage with her acoustic guitar. She gave a sweet speech expressing her gratitude and “mixed feelings” regarding positive responses to their new album, citing both happiness and the fear in the face of success, ending in “my feelings of gratitude surpass my ability to express them.” Then Lenker played “Orange” with Meek’s supporting vocals, the most emotionally moving song yet.
Big Thief’s concert was without a doubt an emotional experience, as the intensity of their songs is only magnified live. Lenker mentioned that she was recovering from a cough, which was undetectable considering the incredible consistency, intensity and commanding power of her voice in equal levels from her album presence.
Big Thief, Twain, and See Through Dresses played Bar le Ritz on June 27, 2017.