On tour to support their new album “Masterpiece”, indie folk-rock band Big Thief the small back room of the Cat’s Cradle this past Tuesday. Supported by Sam Evian, I got to crowd in with about 100 other people and see two bands redefine shredding.
Opening the show was the Albany based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Sam Evian. Originally hailing from New Bern, North Carolina, Sam was accompanied by long time friend and fellow NC native Michael Coleman on drums, and Brian Betancourt on bass. Having released his debut album “Premium” in late September of 2016, Sam shows a variety of influences ranging from soul artists Sly & The Family Stone, southern twangers like The Band and even tapping into early psychedelia pioneered by The Beach Boys.
Their set began with the song “Golden Skulls”, which is a rather sleepy tune that makes fantastic use of slide guitar licks. I should mention that both Sam and his lead guitarist would constantly trade off guitar solos during the entire set, and each of them seemed to make country guitar licks feel at home in laid back indie rock. “Summer Running” featured an extended synth intro with a dancey drum beat, and disjointed chord changes.
“Sleep Easy”, decidedly the single off of “Premium”, opens with a chorus laden guitar riff, and then quickly shifts into sweet, whispering lyrics. According to Sam, this song describes how he has to take care not to wake his partner at night, since they are a light sleeper. He juxtaposes this with the sounds of New York.
The most personal tune of the set was “Cactus”. Starting with Sam softly crooning and gently strumming chords, the lyrics are very introspective. “Never needed light, soaking through the night, green hysteria waits, with cunning taste, and I’m soaking up the water like a cactus.” The drums then enter with a relaxed beat, hitting the snare with brushes instead of sticks. “Cactus” also featured one of the best uses of guitar solos of the night, it was beautiful, tame and emotional all at once.
“I Need A Man” was commentary piece about abuse within the music business. Addressing issues like violence, racism and sexism, this song used a soulful beat and showed a lot of Motown influence.
Perhaps the highlight of Sam’s set was “Dark Love”. For this song, Sam invited his father to join the band on stage and stand in on lead guitar. After the groovey verse, the song goes into a blues heavy chorus. This is where Sam’s dad shone. That man played one of the greatest guitar solo’s I’ve ever seen. Each lick was tasty, well placed and had sounded like some real guitar hero sh*t.
Sam ended the set with “Cherry Tree”. A lurid song that sounded like a chill Sunday afternoon. It felt like the right closer.
Another New York based band, Big Thief hails out of Brooklyn. Fronted by the short and buzzcut perpetuating Adrianne Lenker, she becomes a sonic powerhouse both on the mic and the guitar. Growing out of a duo that Adrienne had with guitarist Buck Meek, Big Thief has evolved into a full band featuring Max Olearchik playing bass, and James Krivchenia on drums. Now adopting a rough and vibrant sound on their debut album “Masterpiece”, released in May, Big Thief has become quite the live act.
Big Thief started their set with “Cut My Hair”, which combined elements of math and folk rock. The song felt angular, with odd chord changes and atypical rhythms. “Real Love” moved into more emotional territory. With lyrics addressing issues like domestic abuse on top of fuzzy guitar and pounding drums, this song set the pace for the rest of the set.
“Vegas” showed Lenker’s proficiency on the guitar, cranking out lead licks while singing every note perfectly. “Parallels” was a slower song that talked about the longing of a partner. This is really expressed in the chorus, “One hand to keep me warm, one hand to hold my chin, to be inside your arms, it’s all I’m asking”. The song ended with Lenker yelling into the mic “I see all parallels”, it was definitely a powerful moment. “Paul” followed in the same vein, but with some of the best singing of the set.
The title track “Masterpiece” was the loudest song of the entire night. Lenkers sang about having an ideal relationship with someone, and then played a guitar solo that was more feedback and guitar banging than actual notes. It was awesome.
The most lo-fi track of the night was “Velvet Ring”, which featured just solo guitar and vocals. The song starts at a hectic pace, with Lenker basically whispering into the mic. “Humans” saw the entire band at it’s most energetic. Talking about human fallacy and lying to the self, this song added a touch of personal into the mix of adrenaline. Using this song as an opportunity to take an extended guitar solo, passionately moving from each distorted note to the next.
As an encore the band performed “Pretty Things”. Using overtly sexual lyrics and talking about concepts of womanhood, this song felt incredibly open and vulnerable. It was serene and lovely and couldn’t have ended the show on a more touching note.
These two bands are simply amazing musical acts of our modern age. I consider myself very fortunate enough to have seen them, and look forward to seeing what they have to offer in the future. It takes a lot for two bands I’ve never heard of to make me cry in public surrounded by other people, but these guys did it.