Live Review: Here We Go Magic with Big Thief at Valley Bar, Phoenix, AZ – 15th November 2015

By on Thursday, 19th November 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

After the tragic events in Paris last weekend, which struck close to home with an attack on the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Le Bataclan on Friday night, even the hardiest of gig-goers might find themselves hesitating to venture out for a show. Such was my situation on Sunday night, when I headed to downtown Phoenix’s Valley Bar to see Brooklyn indie pop band Here We Go Magic. It was unusually cold and rainy in Phoenix that night (a recurring theme with my recent trips to Valley Bar, as you’ll know if you read my review of David Ramirez’s show last week), and I had half a mind to stay safely and snugly tucked away on my sofa at home rather than making the 2-hour drive. However, I felt pulled to make a show of resistance against the fear inspired by the Paris attacks, if only in a small way. Since I already had the ticket in hand, off to Phoenix I went.

I arrived a little after the announced time for doors at the Valley Bar, but it turned out that the bands, Here We Go Magic and support act Big Thief, were running a bit late as well. When Big Thief took the stage about half an hour behind schedule, there were only a handful of people in the venue, mostly hanging back near the bar area. Undeterred, lead singer Adrianne Lenker and company drew the small crowd in with their alt-rock style songs. The hesitant punters slowly crept nearer to the stage during their set, and by the end, the band were receiving enthusiastic applause and genuine shouts of approval.

Big Thief 1

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Big Thief weren’t just another one on the rapidly growing list of female-led garage bands. So often, those bands come off sounding a bit feckless or somehow apologetic for making a loud noise. Not Big Thief. Lenker’s songwriting does have that self-conscious introspection in its lyrics, and the breathy tone quality of her singing voice falls somewhere between Patsy Cline and Chrissy Hynde, but the band’s folk rock style musical arrangements lean more toward the rock end of the spectrum and are anything but frail and delicate.

Their brash sound was displayed to full advantage in the instrumental interludes, when Lenker stepped away from the mic and led her male bandmates through a series of screeching guitar solos. That being said, one of the most memorable moments in Big Thief’s set came when guitarist Buck Meek performed a contrasting a capella version of his solo song ‘Sam Bridges’, which immediately called to mind the folk roots of Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan.

Big Thief 2

Meek and Lenker are both a solo artists aside from their work with Big Thief, and when I stepped out to the merch table after the show, Lenker was selling copies of her own solo CD ‘Hours Were the Birds’ as well as Big Thief’s latest offering (recorded as Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek, and titled ‘A-sides’). She mentioned that most of the songs on their current set list were new and will appear on their upcoming album, to be released sometime next year. In fact, Big Thief’s recent single ‘Masterpiece’ was just released at the end of October, as a prelude to their tour with Here We Go Magic.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/YgKJe3uiJ9g[/youtube]

Luke Temple and his Here We Go Magic colleagues opened their headline set without preliminary chatter, starting with a pair of new songs from their recent LP ‘Be Small’. As it turned out, ‘Ordinary Feeling’ and ‘Stella’ served as a nice warm up for the more energetic ‘Make Up Your Mind’ and an extended version of ‘Hibernation’. I was immediately surprised by how much more vibrant Here We Go Magic sounded in live performance, as I’d always heard their studio recordings as being very muted and mellow, more atmosphere than tangible presence. But on this night, they played through the new tracks and the older ones alike with the smooth, spellbinding grace of a jazz combo, each band member watching and responding naturally to the others, the main focus always at stage right on frontman Temple.

Here We Go Magic 1

The centerpiece of Here We Go Magic’s set was clearly the infectiously quirky lead single from ‘Be Small’, ‘Tokyo London U.S. Korea’, whose catchy title line inspired a bit of singing along among the tiny Valley Bar crowd. That’s not to imply that the audience wasn’t engaged with the performance; on the contrary, the vibe in the room was one of captivated attention and appreciation for the musicianship on display. It’s just that most of Here We Go Magic’s songs aren’t particularly of the singalong variety. Despite that reputation, I’m willing to bet that very few could walk away from ‘Tokyo London U.S. Korea’ without catching the earworm. Find out for yourself below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/HK5qqlLAcm4[/youtube]

While Here We Go Magic’s setlist was predictably slanted toward the new album, the band did touch on each of their older recordings. Songs from their self-titled debut album and their excellent 2012 record ‘A Different Ship’ made notable appearances in the first half of the set, and a pair of tracks from 2010’s ‘Pigeon’, the mildly hypnotic ‘Land of Feelings’ and the psychedelic coda of ‘Collector’, came nearer to the end. The band wrapped up the set proper with brand new single ‘Falling’, and finally, the small audience’s reward for braving both the weather and weekend’s earlier events came in the form of a brief encore, featuring my own favourite Here We Go Magic tune, ‘How Do I Know’.

Here We Go Magic’s latest album ‘Be Small’ is available now via Secretly Canadian. They will play a single UK show at XOYO in London on the 22nd of February as part of a 2016 European tour, which is also currently scheduled to include several dates in France.

Here We Go Magic setlist

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