Big Thief – The Ritz, Manchester – 22nd May 2019

Secret Meeting score: 79

by Chris Hatch

Big Thief may have graduated quickly to their biggest Manchester show to date – but in playing a set of not-quite-hits, they showed the uncompromising side that has made them one of the most exciting acts on the road today.

Sneaking on to the stage almost unnoticed, the band slipped into an understated set – with Adrianne Lenker’s voice at its best throughout, feeling both powerful and intimate at the same time. But rather than run through a set of fan favourites, the band mined the majority of their set from the last few years, rather than latest record U.F.O.F. – in fact, they only played two from their latest and most critically acclaimed record to date.

The band have moved from playing small, intimate venues to larger venues like The Ritz in a relatively short space of time – and while the set was packed with beauty, there is still a charming naivety; it will be interesting to see how they grow to master the art of the bigger venue over the coming tours.

Buck Meek, who has returned to the band’s line up for this tour, jerked around the fretboard like a flip book animation, but the subtleties of his playing were at times. When his embellishments were thrown forward the band, however, the band benefited the most – with Mythological Beauty, Paul, and in particular, Contact, all sounding powerful.

Mary received rapturous applause, and what felt like a standing ovation at an already standing only gig. The applause became deafening at one point and you could feel a genuine warmth from the band. And after an endearing explanation of life on the road from Lenker, the band fell into Masterpiece – which again saw them drawing from previous records, rather than pushing their latest collection.

Big Thief are uncompromising, unconventional, and happy to follow their own path. Despite their delicate sound, the band ironically have a punk streak, due to their development taking place on the road over the last couple of years. It will certainly be interesting to witness their growth over the next two.

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