REVIEW: Big Thief at the Sylvee

  • Post Author
    by Camila trimberger-ruiz
  • Post Date
    Sat Aug 19 2023

I only knew three things about indie-folk band Big Thief before walking into their sold-out show at the Sylvee. First, that their latest album was extremely well received at WSUM, that TikTok had a lot to say about the studio version of “Vampire Empire” and that they were led by MJ Lenderman (which I wasn't even right about, sorry Adrianne Lenker).

Despite this lack of familiarity with the group and their discography, I knew I had to see them live. I had heard rave reviews of their performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival just a few days earlier from WSUM Program Director, Quentin Holle. In fact he enjoyed the set so much, Holle told me “I like folk music now.”

I think I share his same sentiments.

I had gone to the concert with my longtime friend and fan of the band, Renee. When we met up at 8pm we both confessed to each other that we were thinking about canceling at the last minute as we had had early days all week. This led us sitting against the wall for nearly 90 minutes before Big Thief began.

The first thing I noticed when the four-piece walked on stage was how good they looked together. Renee and I got up immediately to get a better look. Frontwoman Adrianne Lenker wore an indie uniform composed of an oversized jacket and small beanie; guitarist Buck Meek was in a suit; bassist Max Oleartchik could be best described as ready to teach a guided meditation lesson; drummer James Krivchenia was in an orange marching band uniform as if he were about to hop in and join “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band” at any second. 

Big Thief looked good on stage. They sounded even better. 

It's a shame that the Sylvee doesn't have a collapsible roof because this group was meant to be heard on a picnic blanket in the late-summer air. 

The set began with three back to back songs “Promise Is a Pendulum,” “Flower of Blood” and “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You” all off of their latest album. Heads and hands in the crowd swayed back and forth. On stage, Meek stood out as he danced along with his guitar.

While every song had the sold-out venue mesmerized, “Vampire Empire” was the crowd favorite, and for good reason. As Lenker's voice gradually intensified over its runtime, the masses followed suit as head sways turned to headbangs. Energy stayed high for the remainder of the setlist, an overall glow was felt across the venue.

Big Thief's North American tour is set to end in early August. I'll be sure to catch them again the next time they land in the midwest.