Live Review: Big Thief, Mind Maintenance, Philadelphia, PA, Oct. 1, 2021

During the first of two sold-out shows at Union Transfer, Big Thief shelved its reputation for mellowness and revved up the tightly packed crowd by jamming, putting a millennial spin on the Band–meets-Joni Mitchell roots rock, and pounding out some headbang-worthy tunage—all while ensuring that frontwoman Adrienne Lenker’s intimate lyrics were clear enough to study or sing along with.

Mixing deep cuts and unreleased songs with signature tracks like “Masterpiece,” “Shark Smile” and “Not,” the band approached everything like it was a hit—and as far as the screaming fans were concerned, they may as well have all been chart-toppers.

The highlight of the night, however, was Lenker’s solo rendition of “Orange,” and the reverent hush that prevailed for those few minutes was a sure sign that we were witnessing something special indeed.

Mind Maintenance opened with rhythmic meditations of sorts, with the interplay of Chad Taylor’s mbira (a thumb piano from Zimbabwe) and Joshua Abrams’ guembri (a Moroccan bass lute) creating musical figures that were either contemplative or tedious, depending what frame of mind you brought to the proceedings.

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich