As Adrianne Lenker meticulously tuned her guitar in the middle of her set at the First Unitarian Church on Feb. 15, the full audience silently stood by, waiting for her next song. Unassumingly, Lenker softly spoke into the microphone, “Does anyone want to hear anything in particular?” The room suddenly burst with an outcry of song names from her dedicated fans. Clearly surprised by the audience’s outburst, Lenker dismissed the flurry of suggestions with a chuckle to herself. “Okay, this is impossible,” she smiled. “I take it back.”
Before Lenker took the stage, Luke Temple, the producer of Lenker’s latest record, abysskiss, opened the show. The small basement was already crowded with a particularly relaxed crowd; there were several folks sitting on the vinyl floor with a picnic basket packed with cans of wine. Temple was greeted by a round of applause as he made his way from the back of the dark room to the fully lit stage. While many of his recordings utilize multiple instruments, Temple delivered an impassioned set with just an electric guitar in hand. His performance of “Florida” had the audience moving along to the smooth R&B track as his delicate falsetto filled the room. Particularly moving was his performance of “Maryanne was Quiet,” a true story about a woman who found a new vigor for life after a failed suicide attempt.
Shortly after Temple finished, Lenker took to the stage and responded to the crowd’s applause with a simple, “Thank you.” She began playing immediately, and she never stopped captivating the small sauna that is First Unitarian Church—song after song—throughout the evening. Mostly alone on stage, she weaved her entrancing vocals through delicately finger–picked notes to produce the ominously beautiful songs she is known for. She played a selection of songs, such as “symbol,” from her latest critically–acclaimed release, . A special treat was hearing her perform songs she had written with her band Big Thief, for which she sings and plays guitar. The performances of “Capacity” and “Pretty Things” added intimacy to these great songs, and I felt lucky to hear them live, especially considering acoustic recordings of these songs don’t exist.
About halfway through her set, Temple joined Lenker on stage for several songs. Their guitars danced and dueled with a precision only possible between two close, musically–gifted friends. Temple also played the keyboard to accompany Lenker’s song “, ” which is about her lover, who is “still too proud to come down,” and her being “still too loud to hear” as they both avoid finding a resolution for whatever conflict they are experiencing.
Without a doubt, Lenker is incredibly talented and admirably humble. Powerful and intimate all at once, she rarely lifted her eyes to the crowd as she performed, obviously entranced in her own work and laying out her every emotion for the audience to enjoy. Once, after jaunting through a long acoustic guitar solo, Lenker opened her eyes and gently laughed at the audience, as if to apologize for abandoning the moment to succumb to her own musical pleasures. Obviously there was no need to apologize, as the audience roared in applause.