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Big Thief, Islington Assembly Hall, London

  • Written by  Steve Warnham

Following critical acclaim for sophomore release Capacity, Brooklyn’s Big Thief are once more on European shores and tonight they play a sold out show to 800 fans at Islington Assembly Hall. 

When I caught Big Thief in February, they seemed destined for a bigger stage. They were then housed by The Lexington, and a capacity of 200, but a growing fan base and critical acclaim for Capacity, has seen them since announce a show at London’s Koko (capacity of 1,500) for April 5th 2018. 

Tonight they perform as a trio. This is as guitarist and co-founder Buck Meek is absent while he focuses on an upcoming solo record. 

Overall, he is missed. As Adrienne Lenker’s main collaborator in song-writing, his influence upon the band’s sound and confidence as a live outfit is huge. Big Thief are often refrained on stage, and it is part of their charm. However they seem to have closed off from the audience while they venture into these uncharted waters.

“Where’s Buck?” someone calls from the crowd, prompting a strange response from the usually shy Lenker. She literally screams with frustration, explaining that they have been asked that question every night of the tour so far. She tells the heckler that she doesn’t want to talk about it through a microphone, but said she will explain in person if they care to contact her, or find her after the show. 

Her frustration is understandable, because their live show is still something special – it’s just different. Her palpable irritation leaves the room with an eerie vibe, like a classroom in the seconds following a teacher snapping. “We love you!” someone from the crowd awkwardly responds in turn.

Musically, without some of the oomph afford by Buck Meek’s guitar, the band are considerably more minimal. There’s a haunting quality to this and it is not without its merits as Lenker’s voice echoes softly around the Hall. Lenker truly is exceptionally talented and packs a voice that can stir a crowded hall even at a whisper. Her voice oozes a natural sincerity and is crystal clear during delicate renditions of ‘Mary’ and ‘Paul’. While James Krivchenia’s pounding drums roll under Lenker’s moody guitar and help bring stand out tracks ‘Shark Smile’ and ‘Mythological Beauty’ to life. 

Closing the show, Lenker is hugely thankful to her burgeoning crowd, and calls this a “transition” period. Presumably referring to the absence of Buck, there is a change in the air, and if Buck is not to return, it may need a reshaping of their live act taking to the stage of larger venues that their quality deserves.

 

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