Adrianne Lenker At Pico Union Project, Monday February 4th 2019
There is no shortage of sad white girls with a guitar, they are appearing faster than mumbling rappers on Soundcloud, and I would say that there is actually a full wave of them, going from Snail Mail to Julian Baker, Soccer Mommy, Phoebe Bridgers and of course the apotheosis of the genre, boygenius with Phoebe, Julian and Lucy Dacus all together, in a redundant triple effect. Of course, I have never seen boygenius, and I am probably a bit harsh on them, their harmonies are certainly pretty, but they have never been enough for me, and I kind of resent Phoebe Bridgers for never missing an occasion to mention Elliott Smith at every single interview she does… maybe she tries too hard but that’s another story.
Forget about all these sad girls, because there is Adrianne Lenker, frontgirl of the Brooklyn-based band Big Thief and going solo for a tour and an album: I would say she achieves a depth and a poignancy that can’t be compared to anything coming from her peers. She was playing a solo show on Monday night at Pico Union Project, and I still can’t believe how the pathos of the night materialized itself in such a dramatic way. Adrianne had just played a few songs when she stopped in the middle of ‘Kerina’, visibly looking very worried and anxious, and it took me a few seconds to realize that a woman in the crowd, on the other side of the stage from where I was standing, had fainted? had a seizure? She was carried away by the paramedics and taken in an ambulance, and for a few minutes, I thought the show would never recover. But it was without counting on Adrianne’s spellbinding art and her natural talent to captivate an audience with her emotional voice and finger-picking guitar. Soon, the show resumed, very well, even with grace when Adrianne reconnected with us and said ‘We are all in this boat together’, before getting back to the song with the same enveloping intensity, and dedicating the set to the poor woman.
Even without real-life drama, an Adrianne Lenker show is a very intimate and inner tragedy, something you live alone in the middle of the crowd while following her delicate fingerpicking, half-hypnotized by her sublime breathy vocals. If she was most of the time alone on stage, tuning her acoustic guitar between each song, the sound coming from the stage could be loud and striking or could evaporate in a heavy whisper, whether she was covering a Big Thief’s song like ‘Orange’ or playing her solo compositions.
Her songs are often surprising, as they often start deep inside some ambient melancholia before shifting with unexpected fulfilling detours, repeatedly revealing little rewarding melodies inside the big melody. There is also a rare intimacy in every line she pronounces, which renders each syllable meaningful while the songs become poetic mazes abruptly ending, as if the melody was suspended in the air but continuing in your mind. The music is often peaceful, whereas some mysterious drama habits the songs, and the voice is so spectacularly soothing and sweet, that you don’t exactly suspect what’s going on. Still, there is always something very dark lurking behind the calm, ‘See my death become a trail’, she sang in ‘Terminal Paradise’… ‘when the eye gets heavy in the womb’, she repeated during ‘Womb’ and she juxtaposed words for a chilling effect during ‘Symbol’, ‘fly make flea make haste make waste eight makes infinity’,
As it is often the case for excellent finger pickers, she was often giving the impression of playing layers of notes with arpeggio effects, and the religious silence all around was simply impressive, as it is something so hard to accomplish during concerts these days. It was the type of show to make you feel guilty for pressing the button of a camera and for making a sound louder than the entire crowd’s breath. It became slightly louder when songwriter and producer Luke Temple (of Here We Go Magic) joined Adrianne on stage. He had opened the night with his own spacey compositions, played with an electric guitar and some occasional beats, He performed songs off his most recent album ‘A Hand Through the Cellar Door’, and since Luke did produce ‘abysskiss’, it was not surprising to see his melancholic and circular melodies echoing Adrianne Lenker’s sound, although his last number sounded like a Caribbean dancefloor.
Adrianne said it was the first time they were playing together, and he came on stage to add layers of guitar and synth when Adrianna played her new tunes, and together, they performed mesmerizing renditions of the tragic fragility of ‘Terminal Paradise’, the magnetic desire of ‘Abyss Kiss’, the Radiohead-esque hypnotism of ‘Symbol’, the echoing beauty of ‘Cradle’, the folk poignancy of ‘Womb’, the almost African-like mantra of ‘From’…
The show floated like a dream from song to song with a timeless quality and it was totally à propos to hear Adrianne telling us how jetlagged she was since she had just flown from London. She even joked about the absurdity of being caught in a series of strong rainstorms in LA, when coming from London.
She didn’t come for an encore but ended the show with a new song and another subtle and memorable melody, while the lyrics were mentioning several times the word emptiness… she disappeared quietly, as unassumingly as she has stepped in, but she left the place transformed and still habited by her captivating dreamscapes that have then become ours.
Pretty Things (Big Thief – Capacity)
Dandelion (Big Thief)
Out of Your Mind