Adrianne Lenker. Photo by Genesis Baez.

The American Poet

Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker performs solo in Eugene

Eugene audiences have every opportunity to see great live music, but rarely do we have the chance to catch an artist so creatively potent and critically relevant as Adrianne Lenker, who plays Dec. 5 at WOW Hall. 

If that name isn’t immediately familiar, she might be better known for fronting the Americana-accented indie rock band Big Thief, considered by some to be the only band that matters, and deservedly so. 

Lenker put out two quiet, and mostly acoustic-leaning, solo records early on in the pandemic: songs, a collection of boldly vulnerable interludes, and instrumentals, only two tracks long, clocking in at a bit more than a half an hour and, naturally enough, featuring wordless music. instrumentals is a companion piece to the first record, bringing the musician’s expressive and skilled exploration of the finger-picked acoustic guitar to the foreground. Always prolific, Lenker also has a 20-track double album on the way with Big Thief this February. 

With her band and in her solo work, Lenker channels hillbilly, punk and ’60s insurgency, but like every great songwriter she stands both outside and within the genres she works in, capturing something that could only happen in the here and now. We’re just lucky to be there; her singing voice is an earthen reed, a seasonal stream and a vessel for rage and regret.

Reminiscent of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” a high point of songs is “zombie girl,” in which the narrator wakes up in the morning, “frozen in bed with a zombie girl/Vacant as a closed down fair,” regretting the desire that brought the pair together in the night before. Through the cold light of morning she sees these two lovers couldn’t be further apart, and that true connection is prevented by the transitory life of a musician.  

Lenker sings, “Then the next night/Dreaming I could feel your skin/But the dream escaped so easily/And I woke up to the road again” — an overdue retelling of the “desire, ambition and loneliness” dilemma in ways that are typically reserved for men.

In one of Lenker’s older and best solo songs, “Angels,” off 2014’s B-sides and recorded with Buck Meek — her ex-husband with whom she also performs in Big Thief — she sings, “When I was only 12 years old, my parents went walking/I hate those wicked words they’d say when they started talking/He was headed for the open road, she turned and slammed the door/Learning love ain’t easy, child, when all you see is war”  — she is an indie-folk American poet in a camper van, busking her way boldly through the mess of youth, eyeing the future.

Adrianne Lenker plays with Eugene’s Brian QTN 8 pm Sunday, Dec. 5, at WOW Hall; $20 advance, $23 door, all-ages.  

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