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Live Report: Adrianne Lenker at Union Chapel
Gabriel Smith , January 16th, 2019 14:51

You can’t hibernate, but you can listen to Adrianne Lenker in a cosy chapel

Photo by Greg Probert

On a piece-of-shit January Tuesday night sometimes all you want to do is die. Not dying, really, but some sort of midway point. A month-long benzodiazepine hibernation is what I really want: a fast-track ticket to someplace where nobody is talking about politics and the sun rises before 8am.

Big Thief records sound like a John Cheever multi-car pile up. Their leader, Adrianne Lenker, is at Union Chapel in Islington tonight performing songs from her recent solo album Abysskiss. Alone, Lenker doesn’t sound like a multi-car pile up. She sounds like Chinese water torture, except the water is wildflower petals, and you are complicit, and unconstrained, and feel a genuine shaky gratitude for each individual drop.

Lenker herself is a flare skinny, with flailing arms and a big high-speed train head that’s always jutting forward. Her voice and songs ache backwards. A Christian cult kid who escaped with her parents at age four, lived out of a van. I’ve seen her play before and she was terrified. Here, in a chapel, she seems at home, smiling, only forgetting the words to one or two of her own songs, her bizarro stylophone vibrato vocal confident.

This would be a convenient gig to die at. The whole audience could die, really. The ushers could carry each of us to the lit-up pulpit and Adrianne Lenker could perform soft-spoken last rites. I don’t see any cremation equipment but the nearest wood-fired pizza oven can’t be far, and everyone here is thin enough to fit.

The night before the show I dream about my dead father. In the dream he has taken all the clocks down in our family home. “It’s to avoid any social interactions,” he said, in the dream. “If anyone invites us anywhere, we’ll just say, ‘Sorry, we can’t make it. We don’t have any clocks.’”

“Okay, Dad,” I said, in the dream.

At Union Chapel, towards the end of her set, someone tells Lenker how long she’s been playing and how long she has left.

“I feel like I’ve been up here for three months,” she says. The crowd, seated, laughs. ‘But in a good way. It could also have been five minutes. Sometimes you want time to extend, and sometimes you want it to just disappear.” On ‘Cradle’, she sings that ‘all the waves ascend and disappear.’

And that is what it is like to to listen to Adrianne Lenker play. All her delicate, undulating blows land hard. Constant, and perfectly timed. Nobody in the audience dies. We leave unharmed, but forever dented. At home, in my flat, alone, afterwards, I try to listen to Adrianne Lenker at quarter speed, just so I can keep up. I put the album on and try to sync my heartbeat with it.