Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker and Nick Hakim bring Johnny Brenda’s to a hush with two sold out solo sets

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Adrianne Lenker | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren for WXPN

Two seated shows on a snowy night at Johnny Brenda’s last Wednesday night had the audience holding their breath in fear of interrupting these intimate solo performers. If you closed your eyes you, couldn’t tell that anyone was in the room beside the person onstage. Performing for sold out crowds at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., Adrianne Lenker (co-frontperson of acclaimed indie folk act Big Thief) and Nick Hakim had the room’s complete attention.

Nick Hakim | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren for WXPN

Hakim opened the matinee show by covering songwriting legend Randy Newman’s “Baltimore.” He cited Nina Simone’s version of the song as an inspiration but made it completely his by replacing the 70’s rock style with his own 2018’s minimalist soul. Hakim’s instrument of choice for the first set was the Wurlitzer piano, standing occasionally to perform a song with his album tracks on tape. He sat hunched in a metal folding chair that was a little too small for the instrument. His body language read as timid, but the force behind his voice and his effortless falsetto spoke otherwise, demonstrated by the timeless melody and sweet lyrics of “Sleep” from 2014’s two part EP Where Will We Go. It make sense to hear that Nick studied music therapy at Berklee College of Music, where he met Lenker and developed a decade-long friendship. He performed songs from 2017’s Green Twins that felt cathartic for both artist and audience. His last song, a request from the audience, broke the crowds silence and allowed Hakim to loosen up and work the crowd as he fast-forwarded his tape to find the song “Roller Skates.” Highlight of the set: “Cuffed” off of Green Twins; Nick’s shout out to Bilal, Musiq Soulchild, and The Roots; Nick’s cover of Labi Siffre “My Song,” sampled by Kanye West for “I Wonder” in 2007.

Adrianne Lenker | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren for WXPN

Adrianne Lenker is striking out on her own and proved that she can hold a stage without her support from the rest of her Big Thief bandmates. Lenker took the stage accompanied by a single microphone and three guitars. Switching between her one electric and two acoustic guitars, each song highlighted the underlining differences between the instruments.

Adrianne Lenker | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren for WXPN

A woman of few words, Adrianne let her songs do the talking, painting intricate stories akin universally relatable epic poems. Lenker’s stage presence made it feel as if we were witnessing something we should be allowed to see. Her hair covered her eyes, but there was a confidence in her voice that showed just how comfortable she was with her singing and complex fingerpicking skills. Berklee would be proud of her ability to mix classic folk storytelling with modern indie sensibilities and 7/8 time signatures. She played mostly new songs from an album she said hoped would be out by fall of this year, adding another solo record to her discography of Hours Were the Birds and the collaborative A-sides and B-Sides albums, released with Big Thief’s Buck Meek, all from 2014. To end the show, Adrianne dipped into the Big Thief songbook to perform an extremely personal version of “Paul” from 2017’s Masterpiece.

“I’ll be your morning bright goodnight shadow machine
I’ll be your record player baby if you know what I mean
I’ll be your real tough cookie with the whiskey breath
I’ll be a killer and a thriller and the cause of our death”

Catching up with Adrianne and Nick at the merch table after the matinee show, they both seemed to agree that it was time to switch from water to beer! Check out photos of the show in the gallery below.

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