Big Thief – Powerstation: December 2, 2022

Big Thief are essentially indie folk rock and they have an enthralling take on this, which they lay out on the first of two sold-out shows at the Powerstation tonight. Following in the wake of their current double album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You.

The Brooklyn, New York City based quartet are led by Adrianne Lenker. The principal songwriter for Big Thief, lead singer and plays acoustic and electric guitars. Born in Indianapolis, raised in Minnesota and lived inside a Christian cult until six years old. Those first seven years lay out the pattern your life takes throughout the rest of its journey.

Met Buck Meek, lead guitar, around 2014 and they started performing as a duo. This is the nucleus of what eventually became the Thieves. They did marry and divorce, but remain close friends and collaborators. The band was completed by Max Oleartchik bass and James Krivchenia drums.

All are graduates of the Berklee College of Music in Boston. They have the premier centre for American music study to draw from.

They enter the stage looking like descendants of Sixties Greenwich Village folkies.

Begin with soft liquid electric guitar tones which carry melodic warmth. That is Change, the opening song on their current album. Would you live forever/ Never die/ While everything around you passes?  Big drum accents tend to highlight the melodic sweetness. Later on, they unleash some bigger cannons.

An unexpected break early, as someone appears to have collapsed and gets carried out by the staff. The lead singer remains calm and focused. A foreshadow of the rest of the show.

Maxine Funke

Maxine Funke appears to be a reclusive and well-kept secret on the New Zealand music scene as a folk artist. She has a surprising history though. Step-Dad is Mike Dooley, who was the drummer for Enemy and Toy Love. She played electric guitar in bands he was associated with, notably Snapper.

She partnered Alistair Galbraith, an experimental avante garde musician who fronted early Eighties Flying Nun band Rip.

All three played in an inventive improv outfit called Hundred Dollar Band, where she played the cello.

Tonight, she is solo and looking very low key and quiet on stage. Which is a shame as her dreamy ambient folk music is lost to a large extent in the very noisy space which is already close to its capacity.

She is playing with what appears to be a melodica and a small keyboard. It is quiet subtle music. Slow rhythm drones with simple melodies. Lyrics which are subtle, but lost in the surrounding chatter. Even at the front of the stage.

A very interesting artist who would be better served at a venue like the Wine Cellar. The Powerstation is rarely a quiet audience. She was brave to front a crowd like this, and did not appear too fazed.

Big Thief

The band raises the heat and passion once the short unexpected break is past.

Certainty steps up the tempo with a nice country rock swing. Lenker’s piercing soprano gets more muscle and her vocal performance here raises the passion level.

Following that they move into louche deep country with the lead guitar getting some pedal steel slide tones. Her pitch and phrasing make her sound a little like the great Linda Thompson. Resembles her too, when her head scarf comes off.

Richard Thompson and Linda came together too, as a superlative indie folk duo. Guitarist and voice parted acrimoniously, but Lenker and Meek seem to have taken their partnership to greater things.

One highlight of the night is Masterpiece. The lead guitar is the backbone here and gets to squall. At times they give a nod to the Neil Young school of guitar and dissonance.

Maybe the best of the night was Not. Starts with rock texture, which they stretch out and improvise. Two guitarists interweave into a multi-layered sound building into the territory of Television and Tom Verlaine. A Velvet jam, maybe. Those were different times when all the poets’ studied rules of verse. The soothing sounds of Hawaiian or Cuban guitar licks provide a soothing interlude.

Sparrow starts with the spectral chords of Lonely Town. Back porch country and folk combine in slow and ponderous tones. Wrapped in the wings of a sparrow. Then Lenker erupts like a banshee just exploded out of her chest. Mama the SCREAM of the eagle. Gets to you in a profound way.

From there they end the show on Spud Infinity. Swinging country rock which, they work up into a rockabilly romp. Surprisingly they sound a little like the Topp Twins I remember when they first broke out.

Big Thief are an experience, once you get on their particular introspective wavelength. Current forerunners in the glorious present of indie music.

Rev Orange Peel   

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Brenna Jo Gotje:

Big Thief:

Maxine Funke: