Live Report: Big Thief – eventim Apollo, London

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Seated smack bang in the middle of the eventim Apollo’s stalls, the stage looks rather underdressed against the grandeur of the hall tonight. The backdrop is bare, there are guitars and double basses cluttered around the place. No frills, but not exactly nothing. 

The crowd tonight is heaving: scan the people at Hammersmith, and you’ll find an assortment of hipsters, tenderqueers and a rogue James Acaster who have congregated here. That’s because it’s Big Thief’s first London show. They’re celebrating the release of their critically-acclaimed, fifth studio double album (deep breath): ”Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. 

Big Thief aren’t the kind of band to sing along with, nor to destroy your vocal cords; they’re a band to revere, to stand like disciples and hail their holy sight. The band might be in rather casual wear, but once Lenker opens her mouth and sings, you become acutely aware you’re witnessing something special take place. Tonight, they strike a nice balance between unreleased material, their grungier, shoegaze cuts, and their speciality: stripped-back, melancholic folk songs. 

Some tracks have been slightly dressed up for public outing. ‘Simulation Swarm’, for instance, sounds much moodier with the electric guitar as a backing instrument, and guitarist Buck Meek effortlessly pulled off a tapped harmonic solo. ‘Spud Infinity’ is transformed into an uptempo rockabilly cut – jaw harp compliments of Lenker’s brother, Noah – where the end is drawn out into a thrilling frenzy. 

Watching the band operate as a unit is fascinating; you get the impression they’re deeply connected as a group as they all move in sync together. Meek bounces back and forth like a Street Fighter character, and at one point, Lenker wiggles her legs like David Byrne. All members sway to the rhythms of their songs; the only exception is when they take a seat and watch Lenker sing in adoration to unreleased track ‘Three Treasures’. “You’ve shown me understanding/Patience and pleasure/Time and attention/Love without measure”, her voice quivers. 

Speaking of Lenker: her performance is easily one of the most enticing elements about Big Thief. For a majority of the setlist, she is restrained, singing tenderly into the mic and occasionally giving hints of the true power of her voice. Another unreleased gem, the highly-anticipated ‘Vampire Empire’, sees her declare: “I walked into your dagger for the/Last time in a row/It’s like trying to start a fire/With matches in the snow.” But the band launch into ‘Sparrow’, and she gives the only belt of the night, painfully announcing: “She has the poison insiiiide her! She talks to snakes and they guiiiide her!”

Big Thief won’t impress you with overly flashy performances; they stun you quietly with the sheer poetry of their songs. If you’re willing to look past their understated aesthetics, you’ll find their performance as arresting as the 3,000 people who came to watch them tonight. 

Words: Alex Rigotti