Prophecies Fulfilled: Big Thief and Palehound Overpower The Sylvee

BY JASPER NELSON, FEATURES EDITOR

PHOTOS BY SAM EKLUND, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

As I walked into The Sylvee on Saturday, Oct. 19, the venue was already filled with the bright twang and driving rhythms of the opening band, Palehound. The group, which started as a solo project by lead singer and guitarist Ellen Kempner, has evolved into a powerful force that surprised me with their dexterity and energy. It’s not an easy task to both fill and captivate a venue as large as The Sylvee, but Palehound found success in Kempner’s strong voice, Larz Brogan’s impeccable bass playing and Jesse Weiss’ driving drums. They played with a nervous energy that would grow and subside as they erupted into huge choruses and dove down into quiet, guitar ballads. Her tight vocal melodies and wiry, southern-inspired guitar served to accentuate the dynamic rhythm section and beautiful songwriting, leaving the audience wanting more at the end of their opening set. 

Big Thief took the stage under dim blue lights and waves of ambient white noise. Lead singer Adrianne Lenker hovered at the mic, hesitated a few seconds while concealed by the shadows of a grey hoodie, and finally delved into the beautiful and tumbling guitar lines of “UFOF.” As the crowd held their breath, Lenker’s hypnotic voice broke hearts just as fast as it mended them. After this solo rendition, she switched to an electric hollow body guitar and let the band bare their teeth.

As Lenker howled prophetic stories of life, death and everything between, the band pushed her forward. Their stage setup formed a semi-circle, allowing each band member to see and interact with each other. They nodded and shouted commands at each other, pushing solos further and letting each member contribute to the howling mass of sound.

In one instance, as Lenker was drawing out a towering solo of finger-picked distortion, the drummer, James Krivchenia, shouted at her that her capo was one fret too high on her guitar. Lenker smiled at him and went on for a minute before moving the capo down and inviting the rest of the band back into the song. This raw and ragged cohesion, as well as the band’s love of earth-shattering harmonic distortion, reminded me of Neil Young. However, unlike Young, they had the ability to go from their roaring highs to devastating lows, where only the slight whisper of Lenker’s voice and guitar was left. This came to life on stage during their performance of “Paul,” which began with only Lenker on guitar, gradually building, until the whole band was gathered into a roar of sound. The feedback and cymbals crashed over the audience in waves before the seas finally calmed and Lenker was left alone. She repeated the last lines, “I know you said that you’d take me any way I came or went,” until she was no longer singing, but instead steadily speaking the final sentences of this letter. 

PALEHOUND
BIG THIEF

Keep up with us as we continue to cover more music on Instagram: @emmiemagazine

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