The most unusual thing happened last night (June 28) when Big Thief hit the Horseshoe stage: the crowd was silent.
It takes a special kind of band to shut up a normally loud and talkative Toronto crowd, but the Brooklyn band had earned their respect. On their first visit since opening for Frankie Cosmos last October, Big Thief had yet another full-length to present, as the recent Capacity arrived just a year after 2016's debut, Masterpiece. Judging by the sell-out, word had definitely spread since that gig.
With their drum kit set up front and centre, the entire band was visible, yet interaction with their fans wasn't much of a priority — more out of pure awkwardness, maybe, than anything. When singer Adrianne Lenker tried to speak, her shyness seemed to take over, though she did kid around while tuning her guitar, to everyone's delight. Instead, what they chose to do was perform songs from both albums with an arresting, hypnotic pull.
Lenker has a voice that becomes even more extraordinary in person. The way her angelic tone can sing a line like, "He cut off my oxygen / And my eyes were watering / As he tore into my skin / Like a lion," without exuding much horror is astonishing. It was hard not to take your eyes off her deep, pained concentration performing, though guitarist Buck Meek was an easy distraction with his gawky movements and persistent head wobbling. It was hard to take your eyes off him, too.
Whether it was the way Lenker shred her beat-up guitar at the end of "Real Love," the way they extended the intro to "Mythological Beauty" or reworked the piano ballad "Mary" with a guitar without losing its devastating intimacy, Big Thief conveyed every emotion there on stage without the need to provide much of a visual companion to the music. Rarely can a band engage their audience the way they did.
"Thanks to the Horseshoe for having us," Lenker announced graciously before ending the night with Masterpiece's "Paul." "We are grateful to be on this journey… of a five-month tour," she added with a laugh. Really though, it was the fans that were most grateful, for getting to witness such a compelling and memorable performance by one of America's best new bands.