One of the last major indie-rock tours to roll through Europe before the pandemic was Big Thief’s. By the time it wrapped up in Copenhagen on March 11, the Brooklyn outfit were raging against the dying of the light, playing a late-night acoustic set outside the venue after government restrictions nixed their show at the eleventh hour; their last few gigs, in Scandinavia and Israel, were cancelled, as US bands rushed back across the Atlantic in time to beat border closures.
After a year of charting the progression of lockdown shows from hastily-arranged Instagram Live broadcasts to slickly choreographed affairs with polish and production values, it was almost jarring to revisit the pre-pandemic world with this streamed concert, filmed in 2019, on the final night of a five-week tour.
It’s not the sight of fans in the venue that threw you off, but the fact that the band were playing to them, and not the camera. For a band that moves as quickly as Big Thief, this is now very much a historical document; 18 months is an age for such a prolific group. We can expect a different iteration of them to emerge from hibernation.
Your guide to what to watch next – no spoilers, we promise
What the gig was, though, is a neat summary of how they became their generation’s best-respected indie-folk band in the space of only half a decade. At the centre of their orbit is singer Adrianne Lenker, who since 2015 has been in the thick of one of those purple patches of songwriting form that, in years to come, will be looked back on with awe.
Her brand of storytelling was presented vividly, here, and we could join the dots to chart how she’s developed, from the dark visions of abuse and trauma of the early albums Masterpiece and Capacity (a chronicle of a car crash on “Shark Smile”; childhood scars on “Mythological Beauty”) to enigmatic mysticism on 2019’s U.F.O.F. (“Contact” sounds like a fugue state set to music) and raw intimacy of the standout songs from Two Hands, released later that year.
What’s remarkable is how neatly all of these fitted together on stage, Lenker’s quivering vocals and Buck Meek’s richly melodic guitars were the cornerstones around which they built a folk-rock set worthy of the titans – all frayed-nerve energy and heart-on-sleeve conviction.
For the encore, the band’s entire crew, plus support act Palehound, joined them for a triumphant, noisy run through “Masterpiece”.
They didn’t know then that they were effectively bringing the curtain down not just on a tour, but on a whole era of their career. Still, it was a fitting conclusion.