Being packed into a cramped corner of the seemingly well-beyond-sold-out Franklin Music Hall this past Saturday night (2/4), it was hard to believe that the headliners were, not so long ago, playing to half-capacity crowds at the likes of Tin Angel, Boot & Saddle, and MilkBoy. However, in less than a decade Brooklyn-based folk-rock outfit – led by vocalist/guitarist Adrianne Lenker (a successful solo artist, as well) — Big Thief have gone from singing/songwriting indie darlings, producing poignant musical commentaries on American life for the most renowned record collectors, to an ineffably artful rock band earning GRAMMY nominations and very possibly bound for arenas.
Last year Big Thief released Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, their fifth studio album. The album, which came courtesy of 4AD, was nominated for two GRAMMYs and listed as one of the year’s ten best albums by nearly every music publication that matters. Pitchfork wrote, “Stretching into cracked trip-hop, country hoedowns, and something involving icicles as percussion, Dragon suggested that the limits to what [Big Thief] could do within this framework have yet to be glimpsed,” of the 20-song double album.
Although the mostly thirtysomething crowd (undoubtedly, big XPN listeners) packed into the venue plenty early for the big night, most seemed disappointingly uninterested in the opening solo set from Big Thief guitarist Buck Meek, with many talking through the performance. However, the 3,000 in attendance stood at attention for the entirety of the headliner’s 17-song set (including those in the many pockets of the venue with no sight lines at all), an especially impressive feat, considering that the indie folk quartet lack any sort of the production spectacles that are usually required for the cavernous warehouse venue.
After opening the show with two singles (“Forgotten Eyes” and “Shark Smile”) off of the group’s fourth and second albums, respectively, the crowd maintained a near sense of awe throughout the set, which featured seven tracks off of Dragon and three unreleased songs. And while it was tried-and-true favorites “Not” and “Masterpiece,” played near the end of the set, that garnered the most cheers, no one seemed phased by the plethora of new material. In fact, Dragon tracks “Spud Infinity” and “Red Moon,” which served as the night’s encore, seemed to be the most joyful, uplifting, and cathartic moments for the vast majority of attendees.
While many of us who remember seeing Big Thief warm the city’s favorite singer/songwriter haunts might rather not frequent its mega-venues with too much regularity, we’re happy to do it for this particular act and more than happy that such a band can warrant that. Considering that 2021 saw Big Thief play two sold-out nights at the 1,300-capacity Union Transfer, and now they’ve proven that they’re probably too big for Franklin Music Hall, it’s not hard to believe that shows in forthcoming summers might not see them headlining TD Pavilion at The Mann Center, or Freedom Mortgage Pavilion for XPoNential Music Fest… In fact, this July they’ll be headlining Red Rocks (with Lucinda Williams opening!)