Adrianne Lenker Longboat Hall, Toronto ON, February 18
Published Feb 19, 2019With a bright light shining down on her, and hundreds of sets of eyes patiently gazing at the stage from all angles of the catwalk that wrapped around the room, Adrianne Lenker smiled and quietly said, "I feel like I'm in a dream."
Lenker's masterful ability to incite wholeness and identity from broken memories into a gracious reverie of warmth is certainly dream-like, and along with the dead silence inside the venue, the crowd easily nestled into her tender embrace. Without her usual bandmates in Big Thief, Lenker's gentle voice carried further and deeper and lifted her vulnerable songwriting into a realm of intense clarity and fearlessness.
On "abyss kiss," from her most recent solo album with the same name, or on "Pretty Things" from Big Thief's Capacity, Lenker's calm flowed gorgeously with arousing purity. Lenker's lullaby-like delivery grasped at the grotesque, metaphoric imagery on "Orange," an unreleased Big Thief song, with stunning conviction, letting her brand of absurdly descriptive storytelling take over.
The night wasn't entirely serious though; in fact, Lenker's typical shyness turned into playfulness as she made light of some technical issues near the beginning of the set — likening a prolonged mic swap to being at a microphone convention. New song "Spud Infinity," a lighthearted country-tinged tune about existentialism ("when I say celestial, I mean extra-terrestrial, I mean accepting the alien you've rejected in your own heart") built upon Lenker's sense of humour and broke up the performance nicely.
Toward the middle of the set, opening act and producer of abysskiss, Luke Temple joined Lenker on stage and continued the laughs, offhandedly exclaiming, "we had these biscuits earlier that made us crazy!" Before elaborating, Lenker responded by punning, "my new album is called 'a biscuit'," and forgoing the groans from the crowd with the arresting fragility of "terminal paradise" and the cascading hypnotism of "symbol" from abysskiss.
Aside from her apparently witty banter contrasting with her carefully introspective poeticism, Lenker is an exceptional guitarist, a fact that was only accentuated in her solo performance. Lenker's meticulous finger-picking guitar was a joy to watch, particularly for songs like the woodsy "Indiana" or the spindly "womb," attentively re-tuning her acoustic guitar in between every song ("it's a tuner sandwich!"). A particularly chilling version of "from" had Lenker delicately harmonizing with the faintly gleaming feedback of her guitar, softly whispering, "I couldn't tell for sure where the screaming sound was coming from." Later, a sparse, less urgent rendition of Big Thief's breakout single "Masterpiece," gave a peak into the bare bones of the familiar rock song.
Maybe it was the creaky wooden floorboards or the dust hanging in the light's glare, or maybe it was when an audience member re-strung Lenker's guitar after a string broke from tuning, or maybe it was Lenker's alluring charm along with her timid, surrealist folk songs, but the performance felt like a cozy house show with one of the most fascinating songwriters around. It was an absolute treat.