Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker exhilarates at The Southern

An acoustic show never felt more electric


Adrianne Lenker's show at The Southern Cafe and Music Hall was an intimately beautiful acoustic experience.

Courtesy Big Thief

Adrianne Lenker held the room from the moment she stepped onto the stage to the last moments of her goodbyes to the audience. An experience of religious magnitude was created in The Southern Cafe and Music Hall last Saturday night. She spoke with a sermon-like dignity about death, caring for each other and creating a lasting hope between her breath-heavy songs that shocked the crowds’ faces. Their admiration was captured in the way they leaned in chairs that could’ve been pews, eyes fixed on Lenker — the preacher of powerful, noteworthy folk with glittery lyrics that could have been poems. 

Ask anyone in attendance — the show wasn’t just about the girl from the up-and-coming indie folk band Big Thief, as The Southern had advertised it. It was about the intimacy Lenker created by singing about her sexuality, her mom, a man, aliens, eyelashes or any topic that was given life by this Berklee graduate’s composed, moving songs. 

Lenker prefaced her song about aliens by explaining her childhood chase for UFOs, and suddenly, the audience was cheerfully laughing, pulled from their mesmerized state of amazed disbelief. Who was this woman? How was she speaking so conservationally one moment and belting words that filled the vacuum in the room the next? 

Lenker is a wonderfully honest musician, who writes songs about aliens and talks to audiences about her first Instagram live, reflecting on it like it’s her own television show. 

“Did you all know Instagram can go live?” Lenker asked the audience. “Anyways, this is live.” This was in reference to a song which “is still in the first stages.” 

After performing this mysterious, young track, Lenker provided some insight on her next solo album and promised a release later this year. It felt like a secret hearing these new solo songs in between familiar Big Thief pieces, a secret shared even further when she added Charlottesville to a list of beloved places in one of her songs. It was a way to let her listeners know this was her space too, and she appreciated it as much as it clearly appreciated her.  

The night was decked in this kind of conversation between the singer and her message to the audience. 

“You know we can all hurt each other,” Lenker said at one point. “We can keep hope alive by imagining peace and giving each other the care we need.” 

Although this instruction seemed slightly unprecedented, it also seemed possible from Lenker’s point of view. She was demanding to be listened to by speaking of realities the audience could imagine. 

In addition to blowing minds with her casual banter, her stage presence and appearance matched her dreamy, motivated words of wisdom. Lenker was ethereal, dressed in a white, flowy blouse that glowed on stage, her fingers dappled with rings that picked at her choice guitar of worship. But she was also accessible between quiet giggles to herself and an out-loud lesson of her guitar scales — a combination many artists only dream of creating.

Adrianne Lenker has it. It seems fitting that Big Thief’s most recent album is named “Capacity” — Lenker’s voice has the capacity to echo raw, exposed emotion. She has the passion for performing personal thoughts in song, with her eyes closing under the lights, seeming to shut the audience out to enhance her own experience, affirming her distinct possession of the space. Her music seems to belong to her, and the listeners should fully acknowledge the privilege to hear magical moments in her work that clearly stem from a space of personal reflection. 

A moment from “Pretty Things,” a featured track from “Capacity,” which Lenker performed Saturday night, stands out as an unapologetic reflection of this internal truth. “There is an eating in my thighs / Wherein thunder and lighting / Men are baptized in their anger and fighting / their deceit and their lies.” 

Lenker has the writing ability to create albums full of a distinct closeness, which likens the talents of the poetic Joni Mitchell or the Pretenders rock icon Chrissie Hynde. She has the guitar-playing skills that could stand on their own as an exceptional feat of music industry shaking. Just listen to the beginning riff of “Masterpiece” from Big Thief’s first album of the same name — there’s so much power within those chords before Lenker’s voice even enters the track. When her vocals come in, it becomes immediately apparent that this musician intends to create an experience with many moments of sacred thought sharing fused with a sound that can only be described as electric. 

This electricity harbored itself in the bodies of every listener in every chair — as well as the countless on their feet — and will continue to shock those who attended the sold out show for months to come. For now, they must await the release of her new solo album as patiently as possible after receiving such a promising taste.

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