Big Thief explore new sounds live in The Current studio

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Big Thief perform 'Not' from their 2019 album, 'Two Hands,' live in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan; Mary Mathis | MPR)
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  • Big Thief perform in The Current studio (full session + audio) 28:27
  • Big Thief - Not (Live at The Current) 04:20
  • Big Thief - Shoulders (Live at The Current) 03:15
  • Big Thief - Replaced (Live at The Current) 04:09

Ahead of their sold-out show Monday night at First Avenue, Big Thief stopped by The Current studio to perform a live three-song set. As early as soundcheck, it was evident that this was not going to be a run-of-the-mill performance.

The foursome (that's Adrianne Lenker on guitar and vocals, Buck Meek on guitar and backing vocals, Max Oleartchik on bass, and James Krivchenia on percussion) tinkered with everything from their physical arrangements in chairs to the harmonies embedded within songs they've sung many times before. Krivchenia began, mid-song, to frisk noise from the exterior of his puffer jacket; Oleartchik took off his own jacket just before recording to play shirtless; Lenker and Meek continually beckoned one another to adventure new vocalizations — making excited eye contact when a note hit just right. Then, listening to the soundcheck, Lenker's arms raised in disbelief upon hearing the first notes of "Shoulders" played back in this new form. It's her song, she wrote it, but in that moment it seemed as if she'd never heard it before.

The result was an ostensibly stripped-down performance that sounded like the album version's distant, reverb-laden relative; inspired not by the band's recorded material but an ever-evolving, ever-shifting future.

"Everything is new every day," Lenker explained. "Including our set lists. We work on things as we go like it's a living organism."

"We try to keep it dangerous," Meek added.

In the end, Big Thief played three songs off their fourth studio album, Two Hands, which was released this month as their second full-length of 2019. Two Hands is a series of "meat wads" in Lenker's words; it is the earthier, more grounded answer to May's U.F.O.F. It seems to push, rip, and scratch at the airiness of the earlier album, which was produced using more overdubs and a series of eccentric recording methods to create a beamed-from-the-cosmos effect (to capture "Jenni," the band strung a guitar from the rafters of a barn and encircled it with amps). The band also expounded upon their decision to record the releases in two very different locales: the temperate forest of Washington State and a chestnut grove in the desert just outside of El Paso, Texas where giant tarantula hawk wasps roamed.

Creatures, like the wasps, roam Lenker's lyrics as well — they come in the form of people like "Mary," "Paul," and "Lorraine," all songs off the group's first two studio albums. They come in the form of nested identities, like when Lenker sings in the voice of her inner child, her family members, "the boy in [her]." "I do feel like I intentionally leave space for people to inhabit the songs in their own ways," Lenker explained before launching into "Shoulders," a song she says is about the police-brutality epidemic in the United States, but is open to a variety of different interpretations.

That's the magic in Big Thief — their songs are often so porous that the band can't help but surprise themselves, exploring sonically in a way that could come across as ego-driven if it wasn't so clear that their curiosity is rooted, not just in exploring what Big Thief can do, but in what their craft can do: what music can do. Meek explained that, during live shows, the band sits in a close half-circle to manifest an atmosphere conducive to experimenting. "So we can all see each other's eyes, that's really important," he said.

As for their show Monday at First Ave, Lenker expressed excitement to be playing to a sold-out crowd at the most celebrated venue in her home state. She grew up traveling Minnesota, and as a teenager played open mics across the Twin Cities. Now she's back subletting in Minneapolis, the most permanent home she's had in five years of touring, but not for long. "To be honest, my idea of what home is has shifted so much, so now I do feel more comfortable on the bus or on tour," Lenker said. "I'm learning to have a place that is somewhat stationary."
     – Lydia Moran

More Video

Songs Performed


"Not"
"Shoulders"
"Replaced"
All songs from Big Thief's 2019 album, Two Hands, available on 4AD Records.

Hosted by Jade
Produced by Derrick Stevens
Engineered by Michael DeMark
Visuals by Nate Ryan and Mary Mathis
Web feature by Lydia Moran

External Link

Big Thief - official site

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12 Photos

  • Big Thief in The Current studio
    Big Thief's Adrianne Lenker, portrait at The Current. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Big Thief in The Current studio
    Big Thief's Adrianne Lenker portrait at The Current (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Big Thief in The Current studio
    Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief, portrait at The Current. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Big Thief in The Current studio
    Big Thief performing in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Big Thief in The Current studio
    Big Thief performing in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Big Thief in The Current studio
    Big Thief performing in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Big Thief in The Current studio
    Max Oleartchik performing in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Big Thief in The Current studio
    Buck Meek and James Krivchenia performing in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Big Thief in The Current studio
    Adrianne Lenker performing in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Big Thief in The Current studio
    Big Thief performing in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Big Thief in The Current studio
    Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek performing in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Big Thief in The Current studio
    Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek performing in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)