Big Thief & Lomelda Warmed Hearts at the Irenic in San Diego
Photos and Review by Charlie Spadone
San Diego had the pleasure of welcoming Big Thief to a sold out show at the Irenic after a five-month touring hiatus, their longest one yet according to frontwoman Adrienne Lenker. There was an air of anticipation in the room, likely a result of Big Thief’s then recent release of a single, “UFOF,” which shares the name of their upcoming album (released May 3, 2019 via 4AD).
When I entered the Irenic minutes before opening band, Lomelda, took the stage, the crowd was small but steadily growing as people trickled in. The lights dimmed and the crowd instantly fell silent. Hannah Read of Lomelda sat alone on a stool with only her microphone and guitar separating her from the sea of fixed eyes. Read’s soft but expressive voice echoed throughout the room, captivating everyone. She started the set off with some older tracks accompanied by Austin, TX based drummer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Stevens. Slowing things down, Read played a few solo songs off her new release M for Empathy.
The venue was now packed to the back door of the room, each person focused on the stage. Read’s skillful timing and carefully crafted, concise lyrics seemed to stretch out time, filling every empty moment with a palpable feeling of life. Her songs flow as if expressing a train of thought, processing emotions without being too repetitive. Without the pressure of saying too much, Lomelda’s lyrics hit deep, one by one. I was overcome with a sense of being grounded in the current moment instead concerned with the past or future. Read’s vocals play with emotion as she sings, changing her vocal runs to match the mood of the room. Lomelda makes music for quiet places, and the setting of the Irenic Church fit perfectly. The meditative peace created by Hannah Read's solo performance was shifted by the reappearance of the drummer and back up vocalist. They finished the set with high energy and everyone swayed to the beat.
The crowd felt peaceful and excited as Big Thief took the stage. The Brooklyn-based band consists of drummer James Krivchenia, bassist Max Oleartchik, guitarist Buck Meek, and guitarist and vocalist Adrienne Lenker. The band casually tuned their instruments, taking their time to be precise. As soon as they started playing they were perfectly in sync. The band’s ability to flow together was impeccable, allowing them to completely switch up the pace in-between songs with ease. Every member was actively connected to each other while simultaneously immersed in their instruments.
Big Thief went through songs from their two albums, Capacity (2017) and Masterpiece (2016), then onto their two new singles, “Cattails” and “UFOF.” Finally, they played one never-before-heard song from their then unreleased album.
In the middle of the set, Buck Meek took a moment in the spotlight to play a few solo songs. Buck’s folk style gave me an insight into the different influences making up Big Thief. The band joined back in and the crowd continued to gently dance along.
Adrienne’s boldly honest lyrics and gentle but powerful voice gave the listener an instant sense of intimacy. Her voice became the focus in many songs as the simplicity of the instrumentals allowed her words to be emphasized. The easy-going nature of the band was carried along by Krivchenia’s calm, but passionate drumming style. Oleartchik’s simple bass lines fell perfectly into place around the drums and guitar, adding movement to every second. With an ability to go from simple melodic riffs, to soft plucking, to eerie solos that capture the entire room's attention, Meek's guitar clearly plays a big part in the different ambiences of Big Thief's songs.
During each song, the crowd was extremely polite and, if anything, only softly singing along. Every song ended with the whole room exploding with applause and wanting more. The band was humble and lighthearted while interacting with the audience. Instead of explaining themselves or putting on a comedic act, they were letting their music stand for itself. The sincerity of Big Thief was what struck me the most from their set. Their honest love for their craft and for each other is tangible in everything they do. The dramatic intimacy of their music was perfectly highlighted by the tiny church venue. I recommend you see them now while you have the chance, because I have a feeling they won’t be playing venues of this size for much longer.
Check out more of Charlie’s photos from the show HERE.