Big Thief, July 19, 2023, Ulster Performing Arts Center, Kingston, New York
Big Thief was what I like to call one of my “Times of COVID” bands; bands/musicians whose vibe matched my emotions during the throes of the pandemic. The Brooklyn, New York based band’s lo-fi/indie rock/folk/alt-country style and superbly crafted lyrics often gave me the hope I needed for the future.
This would be my first time seeing the band and attending the venue. The Ulster Performing Arts Center, located a bit over two hours north of Brooklyn, was built in 1927. The site is a newly renovated Broadway style theater located in the heart of Kingston, N.Y. The 1500 capacity seating was the perfect size and setting to host the band.
As the sold out crowd filed into the venue I speculated which style of music would dominate the band’s set. At close to 9:30 in pitch blackness the band sauntered on stage and began their set with “Change,” whose lyrics expound on the movements of life. The gentle composition, built on acoustic guitars and soft drums set the tone for the night. I became a bit uneasy when the band remained in the darkness during their second selection “Sparrow.” Finally, during “Certainty” the band was illuminated. Band members Adrianne Lenker (guitar/vocals), Buck Meek (guitar), Max Oleartchick (bass), and James Krivchenia (drums) lined the stage, next to each other, on the same plane, no one band member out front. Lenker’s blue jeans, boots, and white tank were topped off with a white Stetson hat. It seemed obvious Big Thief was going to give us a country flavored performance.
An exciting aspect of this band is the setlist evolves and changes each night.Tonight was no different. Half of the sixteen song set originated from the band’s latest album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, but also included unreleased selections, along with a couple of Lenker’s solo numbers. The lo-fi alt-country sound was emphasized by Lenker playing acoustic guitar throughout the set while Meek switched between an acoustic and his electric Fender Telecaster. The setlist flowed effortlessly, each song’s mood progressing seemlessly into the next. Highlights included “Dried Roses,” the recently released “Vampire Empire,” “Blue Lightning,” the brand new “Seam,” and “Cut My Hair” which has rarely been played since 2019. The set concluded with Lenker’s brother Noah playing the mouth harp to the quirky blue grass styled “Spud Infinity.” The band was at its loosest and most playful during this celebratory ode to life’s many joys.
The performance could have concluded and I would have exited the venue ecstatic by what I had witnessed. Instead the band returned to the stage with Lenker armed with an electric guitar. Big Thief extended the six minute “Not” into a ten minute plus guitar piercing rock, blues, psychedelicized explosion. Lenker demonstrated her guitar skills, soloing, and controlling feedback, demonstrating she could be “that” rock god. The final distorted chord trailed off as the band thanked the crowd for coming and exited the stage. This encore was icing on the cake. I couldn’t have asked for any more.
Big Thief will continue this tour through the midwest and conclude in Berkeley, and Los Angeles, California. Check out tour dates and more: https://bigthief.net
Change, Sparrow, Certainty, Dried Roses, 12,000 Lines, Cut My Hair, Sadness as a Gift, Vampire Empire, Blue Lightning, Seam, Born For Loving You, Happiness, Mary, From, Spud Infinity, Encore: Not