Brooklyn-based melodic indie rock band, Big Thief, have hit the tour trail this month for a run of US headlining dates before heading off to Europe. Riding a wave of positive reviews from critics and fans for their debut album, Masterpiece, released last spring, the band stopped in at the Cat’s Cradle Back Room on a rainy Tuesday night. Any concerns that a mid-week show on a chilly, rainy night might conspire to keep the attendance lower than expected were quickly put to rest. Such is the positive buzz surrounding Big Thief, that the room quickly filled and the audience was bristling with anticipation by the time Sam Evian took the stage to open the show.
A fellow Brooklynite, Sam Evian is the solo stage name of Sam Owens, the frontman of indie-rock outfit Celestial Shore. Sam Evian played through a set of laid-back chilled grooves from his solo debut, Premium. The songs were intimate with an intensity bubbling just under the surface. The sound was a bit of a mellow 70’s guitar vibe with a very slight psychedelic flavor… Think Kurt Vile and the War on Drugs mixed in with a bit of Velvet Underground. Between songs, Sam connected with the audience explaining that he had attended the North Carolina School of the Arts with drummer Austin Vaughn in nearby Winston-Salem. Toward the end of the set Sam announced that he was bringing his Dad on stage to join the band on guitar for a song. Rather being a cringe-worthy moment of nepotism, Sam’s Dad is a jazz player who laid down some serious guitar lines. The moment was even more impressive and emotional when Sam announced that his Dad had recently beaten cancer. Sam Evian definitely won over the crowd and set the bar high for Big Thief to follow.
Big Thief is normally a four-piece outfit, however for the show at the Cradle, they took the stage as a trio. Frontwoman Adrianne Lenker explained that guitarist Buck Meek was taking a break to visit with his family. While Meek’s missing guitar took a bit of muscle out of the Big Thief sound, it served to shift the focus to Lenker’s raw and emotional vocals and created a slightly warmer intimacy. With Max Oleartchik on bass and James Krivchenia on drums providing a backbeat that was at times subtle and forceful, the trio played through most of the songs from Masterpiece with some new material mixed in as well. Highlights included a raw and powerful take on “Real Love,”an upbeat “Vegas,” the bittersweet “Paul,” and the standout single “Masterpiece.” The set closed out with the one-two punch of the expansive and slow burning “Velvet Ring,” into “Humans.”
Big Thief’s Masterpiece is an intriguing listen. Presented in a live setting with the songs slightly stripped down, there was an even stronger feeling of delicacy and connection. They were at times sparse and dreamy, angst-ridden and frail, and bright and melodic. Led by Lenker’s heartfelt delivery, Big Thief managed to take a strong set of songs and elevate them in a beguiling manner.