After catching eyes and ears at SXSW, Big Thief and Snail Mail met up with Palehound for one of the best tour lineups of the year. Saturday night at Songbyrd, the three talented bands played to a sold-out room.
Snail Mail, Lindsey Jordan’s brainchild, brought out their best unfiltered slacker tracks. Jordan’s wistful, emotive vocals were heard through drummer Ray Brown’s cymbal hits on “Habit.” Alex Bass’ chords changed swiftly under the rich, low-fi instrumentation of the band, all while Jordan played a never-ending guitar riff. On “Slug,” Snail Mail deliberately skipped beats, placing pauses in guitar strumming to add a punk rock level of drama. A rinse and repeat buildup sequence created an urgency to Jordan’s lyrics.
Palehound took over, beginning with just Ellen Kempner playing the eerie riff of “Drooler” on guitar, singing softly and intently. Bassist Larz Brogan and drummer Jesse Weiss came in with harsh rhythms, heavier than their studio tracks. Grinding electric riffs, vibrating bass and strong drums covered Kempner’s brooding words. In response, Kempner showed off her gifted vocalizations in the quick-paced “Molly,” the half-tempo bridge and rolling guitar riff prompting fans to dance.
“Our car just broke,” Kempner told the crowd, “Does anyone casually have antifreeze?”
A stunning rendition of “Easy” slowed things down. Buzzing lo-fi guitar darkened the chorus, adding another layer to the mix. The fast scaling riff on the bridge, paired with a rasp in Kempner’s strong vocals, was a great contrast against a tempo-steady interlude. Jordan and Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker danced near the stage, lip-syncing to their favorite tracks.
Palehound played some new ones, upbeat and demanding songs that still contained Kempner’s unique mix of instrumentals and addicting poetry. She told the crowd that the new LP will be released in a few months.
“I can’t say an exact time. It’s a Gemini, just like me,” Kempner said.
Lenker snuck up onto the stage with two guitars, ready to perform to the focused crowd. She launched right into a solo track, pristine and tender vocals dancing between her guitar melody that told its own story. Guitarist Buck Meek and bassist Max Oleartchik knelt as Lenker sang the vivid song.
The crowd cheered when Lenker’s faint, stirring riff signaled the start of “Vegas.” A thunder of vibrating bass trailed behind while the drum caught onto the rhythm. The chorus gave way to a clash of high notes from Meek’s guitar and Lenker’s chord progression matched up with her musical partner’s.
The delicate humming that narrated “Parallel” flowed from Lenker. A careful snare rhythm flitted through, James Krivchenia’s jazzy line heightening the psychedelic, resonating tones of Meek’s guitar. Lenker’s soulful singing on “Real Love” alternated peacefully with wavy drum hits and loud, heavy riff progressions. Oleartchik and Meek drew the melodies back together into the clamorous, somewhat shredded end. The crowd cheered over the instrumentation, creating a sensational and dramatic atmosphere.
The guitar tones drifted straight into the title track of the band’s latest LP, Masterpiece. Meek, with Thom Yorke-like motions, strummed facing Lenker’s frets. They carried the crowd’s attention as she poured emotional verses out through the microphones. On “Humans,” Lenker’s raw and open vocalizations manifested into genuine screams, which she let out away from the mic, in between verses.
What really was a tripleheader show ended with Big Thief’s resonate and strong instrumentation, the pared-down ending showing that Lenker and Meek can be delicate and beautifully fragile while powerful.