Big Thief with Katy Steele @ Chevron Festival Gardens
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Adrienne Lenker has had a couple of cracks at the music business. In 2006 she had an album that was relatively shiny in its approach to her pop tunes. Her album of 2011 Hours Were The Birds was a brighter showcase of her guitar playing and singing with its predominantly acoustic folk numbers, but it is her current band Big Thief that has made the biggest splash. PIAF is adept at bringing bands whose talents outstrip their more modest following and this year Big Thief were that act.
Before the headliner had their turn, it was Katy Steele who made a rare appearance in her home town. On the eve of the Australian Cricket Team’s first test in India, Steele and her band donned the unflattering all while outfits, with only the band leader being allowed any colour in the form of bright red thigh high boots.
The former Little Birdy front woman is no stranger to the big stage, prowling around like a professional as she worked through her beat based tunes. Songs from her debut album Human were the order of the day with there being hardly a guitar in sight during the whole set. Steele showed her vocal chops on the chorus of Diamonds, and hinted at a tumultuous last five years during the melodically strong Rescue Boat. Steele wasn’t shy with her banter, despite nervous laughter creeping out as she tried to draw the audience in. It Ain’t Me is a stadium worthy tune and found the right setting in a fitting end to a tidy set.
Big Thief had an unusual set up on stage with drums and bass in the centre and the two singers flanking them on each side of the stage. It was Lenker who would remain the focal point though as she showed off a voice that is far more powerful and evocative that the Big Thief recordings would suggest. With Lenker being such a prolific writer, and the next Big Thief album already reportedly in the can, there was a selection of tunes that were far wider than the band’s one release would suggest, with Shoulders being an early highlight of these unknown gems.
Real Love was delivered with more grunt than expected as the light and dark of the tunes were showcased, while Masterpiece was aptly titled. Big Thief are a band that may appear unremarkable on the first instance, but they manage to draw the listener in with ease. The wiry Buck Meek holds his guitar high and bobs his head back and forward as if he has been transported straight out of the C86 era, as he adds guitar licks that are subtle and tasteful. Meek also unleashed a thick drawl to sing an a cappella version of a tale of back stabbing and deceit as a tasteful break up to the tone of the set.
Between lesser known numbers like Terminal Paradise, the finely plucked Velvet Ring was given a refined airing as the band eased their gears back a little. Things finished strongly with an impassioned take on Humans and the stunning Paul (even though it was given an initial misfire when started in the wrong tuning). Between the songs, Lenker and her crew taught the crowd to breathe in the air and take in the beauty of the night. Big Thief are a cracking act that shouldn’t be missed. They are somehow considerably better than they would appear at face value.
Pics by Rachael Barrett