We start this experience, and it really is an experience, with an interview that sets the tone for Big Thief's performance, but there will more on that later. For now, you'll have to read in the knowledge that this band is something else - and if our review below doesn't prove as much, then hopefully the feature DrunkenWerewolf will publish on Wednesday will.
Wandering into the top room at The Louisiana after an unusually long while away, it's support band Mega Bog who welcome us by opening the night with an intriguing set. Like the headline act, the duo comes out of New York, and their music is underpinned by frontwoman Erin Birgy's enviable vocal. Twittering and twirruping through her songs, Birgy is a kindred spirit of Bristol artist Rachael Dadd in that she can create meaningful earworms out of what otherwise seems to be whimsical improv. Later into their set, Mega Bog proves they're a versatile quagmire (geography pun klaxon) by lurching into a soulful calypso beat that's not dissimilar to the noise M.A.R.I.N.E. are making right now. We appreciate all of it, but it's this half of the set we see ourselves listening to in a non-gig setting, because of its quiet/loud dynamic and intent to engage. A shame then that these tracks represent a formation that Mega Bog has only recently left behind: they're now pared down to Birgy and bassist Zach Burba, while Big Thief's drummer James Krivchenia joins them to flesh out some of the heavier tracks.
If Big Thief's performance is not sold out, it's very close to it, but unnervingly the band seems to glide through the packed crowd towards the stage without causing any disturbance at all. The music's not even begun, and already this four-piece have broken tradition (usually a musician's entrance into a busy Louisiana spawns a Moses-style parting of the crowd to allow instruments through).
True to their promise that the set will feature as many new songs as it will old, the New Yorkers launch into a brand new track and continue to demonstrate that frontwoman Adrianne Lenker may well be the most prolific songwriting on the scene right now. At one point they even perform a song that was finished "several days ago" - presumably while on tour in Europe - but standing by my previous assertion that Big Thief is something else, it doesn't matter at all. Usually, if an artist were to so unashamedly plug unreleased material, there would be at least an oddle of detachment from the audience, but Big Thief's fans are totally engaged from start to finish. The band seems to have the ability to suck souls onto the stage with them while they play, and gently, slowly give them back throughout their performance.
Songs from Masterpiece to feature tonight include the obvious ("Paul", and the eponymous track, "Masterpiece") and the less so ("Parallels" is a personal highlight). But really the individual songs don't speak to the talent on display here. While Lenker transforms as the mood takes her, guitarist Buck Meek clearly improvises, while drummer Krivchenia and bassist Max Oleartchik seem to have no problem at all in keeping it all together. This band is clearly a unit, and though they can function without one another (all have side and solo projects), as a four-piece they are... well... something else.