Big Thief gigs are an unpredictable beast. Known to drastically switch up their setlists night by night instead of sticking to a standard selection across a tour, no two shows are the same. Those attending their Park Stage set today (June 25) might be expecting a softer, folkier performance – instead, what they get three songs in is frontwoman Adrianne Lenker screaming into the microphone like she’s fronting a metal band.
Things start off in expected territory with the laidback, fingerpicked fare of ‘The Toy’, before ‘Shoulders’ slowly ramps up the pace. Then ‘Masterpiece’ – the title track from their 2016 debut album – hits and the focus of the set comes speeding into view. “This place smells like piss and beer, can you get me out?” Lenker sings before switching her vocal cords to guttural mode, a line that, in this setting, foreshadows thoughts running through broken heads come Monday morning. Shortly after, ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’ is transformed entirely from its quiet acoustic form to a juddering rock song.
Part of the thrill of Big Thief is just how tight and seemingly telepathic they are – this is a band who regularly improvise instrumental sections of their songs, taking cues from each other via mere glances. Nowhere is that more evident today than during their biggest song ‘Not’, which they expand with an enormous outro that spawns from a Lenker guitar solo. As exciting as it is to watch this in action, after a certain point it starts to veer into self-indulgent territory, threatening to go on for a little too long.
When the four-piece switch lanes back to acoustic as the set reaches its final throes, things begin to falter. The sudden change is jarring and causes the performance to lose momentum, no matter how beautiful the songs that get aired. A light-hearted appearance by Noah Lenker, the brother of the band’s singer and guitarist, on jaw harp rectifies some of the damage, the unusual instrument adding layers of sound like springs being uncoiled and boinging back into place to the track.
‘Cattails’ signals what looks to be a return to rock, its Americana roots swapped for heftier riffs and rhythms. But, for today at least, the set won’t conclude on the roaring high it deserves – instead of a punchy finale, the band instead opt for a fairly faithful rendition of ‘U.F.O.F.’’s ‘Terminal Paradise’ and its meandering, slow burn. It’s an anti-climactic finish, but one that fits Big Thief’s M.O. of remaining as unpredictable as possible.
Big Thief played:
‘Flower Of Blood’
‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’
Check back at NME here for the latest news, reviews, interviews, photos and more from Glastonbury 2022.