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Big Thief @ Manchester Academy review – “if you write a song on tour, you have to play it”

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Featured image: Alexa Viscius

Alt-folk rockers Big Thief served up a magical night of new music to a packed crowd at Manchester Academy on their Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You tour. 

This tour is a showcase of their new album rather than a greatest hits selection of crowd-pleasers. The opening four tracks of the gig were the same as the opening tracks of Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You and only four songs in the entire set were borrowed from their previous albums.

Their fifth body of work in six years, the mammoth double album released on the 11th of February adds another 20 songs to the Big Thief catalogue. As expected when a band tours a fifth album, some older songs were conspicuously absent. 

There was no room for fan favourites such as ‘Shark Smile’, ‘Paul’ and ‘Real Love’, with the band instead favouring to premiere never heard before song ‘Forgiver’ to the lucky Manchester audience. When it came round to guitarist Buck Meek’s customary opportunity to sing one of his own songs, he again opted to offer up a new song after sharing the band’s mantra: “if you write a song on tour, you have to play it!”

A surprise highlight of the set was ‘Flower of Blood’. An album track from the new record, the song seemed to completely transform when placed in a live setting. It provided a chance to groove to the heavier rhythms of drummer James Krivchenia and bassist Max Oleartchik. 

Between the lyrical stories told in their songs, lead singer Adrianne Lenker also divulged into a six-minute monologue to share an existential encounter she had with a flight attendant on the plane to Manchester who refused to let her sit in an empty first-class seat. Coming across as honest and wholesome, Lenker’s story quite appropriately ended in her apologising to the flight attendant as she reflected that perhaps she was taking other external issues out on her. 

As well as being one of the greatest alternative bands in the world, Big Thief also possesses a likeable stage presence. Before support act KMRU started his set, all four members of Big Thief came on stage to personally introduce him and set the tone for an attentive and respectful night, encouraging limited talking.

The Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You tour is a modestly triumphant flexing of the band’s songwriting muscles. Not many musicians can say they’re as prolific or as humble as Big Thief. Reaching the end of the night and the ceremonial encore looming, Lenker jokingly exclaimed “that’s it, bye” before the band fiddled with their guitars and gave the audience a couple of crowd-pleasers to send us home with.

The night ended on debut single and sing along favourite ‘Masterpiece’ and aptly so. I can’t think of a better word to describe one of the best nights of music I’ve experienced in a long time.

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Eddie Toomer-McAlpine

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