Like I said, a while back, I am a Big Thief fangirl of the highest order. I was fussing around youtube, trying to find something to listen to when I came across Capacity, their second album. This is an album whose tracks I feel only really came alive once they were played live. Take this blistering energized version of Shark Smile, that screams into being with Adrienne’s shredding electric guitar. It suits her. The music feels loser, more self assured, compared to the uncertain quieter less rocking version of the album. Addrienne comes into her own, giving full voice to the screams and yelps, life breathing into the track. This is how the song was always meant to sound…But I’ll say it again, don’t let Buck sing back up. Seriously Buck, hush…you distract and take away a little something each time you chime in. When do men know to shut their damn mouths and let women just SPEAK! I would love to see how the dynamic would change if the Evelyn of the song was playing lead guitar instead of Buck. As it is Adrienne is still the only singer who has ever made South Des Moines sound romantic. It is anything but, more bland southish mid west nothingness, the same tired old scenery over and over again. But hey, who is looking at the scenery when you have a female vampire at the wheel, gunning it through Winona Minnesota, begging you to take her too.
The album version of Mary is Lenker and Big Thief at Capacity: a song worthy of Joni Mitchell, of CSNY, an ode to her friend, it would seem to be her female lover, to that magical beauty of the summer of youth – those Sugar Mountain days that Neil Young sings of, those days of alcohol, and sex and drugs and everything is new, every mountain to be climbed laughing and living in that time when nothing can ever stop the party happening. The song is made by the contrasts of light and dark, beauty and the sirens, whilst the ‘needle stops the kicking’, the ‘clothes pins on the floor’ This is the bittersweet of youth and nostalgia for childhood days, of the time between being a daughter and a woman in your own right, and Adrianne is laid out before us, as usual, bare and vulnerable, letting us into her life and her past with a bravery and honesty that is so rare in music nowadays. It is always summer in the land of Mary. I wondered to myself if the 2018 Pitchfork performance might yield another gem, and it did. Here is Mary at her accomplished, raw yet polished best.
This is an album of storytelling. Mythological Beauty is an epic 5 minutes and 13 seconds of confessional explanation of the scar on the side of her head, and her mother’s love for her. Adrienne screams “I was just five and you were twenty-seven
Praying “don’t let my baby die.” Russian dolls there is a child inside each woman, and her child inside her too, Adrienne understands, she recognizes her mother as a human being, as a child herself, a woman doing her best, the best she could do. As the listener, an older woman I almost want to rush and silence Adrienne. No! I want to cry, no! This is too much, too personal, this is not you this is her, and this is too too much. Instead I listen and I push away what I can’t hear. The pain of permanent milk stains on me the listener makes this uncomfortable listening. I used to listen to Tori Amos Silent all These Years, bitterly singing along as a daughter. This is a song much in that same vein. Probably easier to listen to from that end of life than at this….
Autobiographical stories of assaults, Watering and Coma make uncomfortable listening, however beautiful and skillful the music. Not the seductive vampire of Evelyn, but a rapist with her blood dripping into his mouth, a devouring “lion”. The mesmerizing , sparking Black Diamonds brings us out into a “cold sweat on the ceiling”, the mystery of love and life and survival revealed in a sweet jangling benign trippy pretty love song.
The studio recording feels a little empty to me, a little missing on the lower end, a little missing energy, but live these songs burst into beautiful fruition, the glory of life and survival, of suffering and a child paying homage to her mother who did the best she could with what she had, a young woman recognizing the beauty of a young friendship, and an adult woman surviving men and life and all that the world does to drag women beneath the undertow. “Oh”, she sings, in Haley, “it gets you down!” I know just what she means….