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Adrienne Lenker and the Art of Silence

By Callum Foulds

We go to concerts for the music and live performances, but what of the moments in between?Callum Foulds writes about thoughts and takeaways from Adrienne Lenker's show in Manchester back in April, offering an alternative look into live music culture.

Despite considering myself to be a big fan of Adrianne Lenker, at the time of the gig I was largely unfamiliar with her latest album, Bright Future; however, because of my familiarity with her, on and offline (I have worshipped at the feet of her surreal instagram for years), I felt I knew what to expect from an Adrianne Lenker gig. A certain warmth would fill up the venue; her immaculate sense of nomadic fashion would be on ferocious display; the audience would be as quiet as a mouse, even quieter perhaps, depending on the general mood. This last element I was most excited about. It could be said that in recent years gig audiences have become somewhat of a noisy beast; I do not mean cheering, but the phenomenon of attendees having full blown conversations in the middle of a show. I have experienced this myself: in November 2023 I saw Weyes Blood at Rocky City, Nottingham, a remarkable evening, only somewhat sullied by the relentless chatter of two grown men stood directly behind me; of course I moved, but this is only a small example of a specific kind of fear of noise pollution that could easily mar your entire evening. Luckily, I had nothing to fear at the Lenker gig, as the crowd was exactly as predicted: quiet, respectful, and patient.

I mention patience here for a special reason. A part of what draws fans to Adrianne Lenker is her authenticity, whether that’s online, in interviews, in her music or on stage - she is relentlessly, and wonderfully herself. It’s a rare quality in artists of a certain level of notoriety; when a persona can guarantee a certain level of polish and reliability, it is refreshing for an artist like Lenker to demolish what is expected of a performer. Her musicianship is astounding; even on her worst day her command of the guitar is as good as Hendrix’s best. Although I remember these facets of the show, the moments between songs take up such a large space in my mind, that I believe writing about them is the only way for them to make way for something else.

I cannot remember where it fell, but at one instance Lenker engaged with a member of the audience so adorably awkward that you would be forgiven in thinking it was her first time on stage. Time between thought and speech were long, Lenker meticulously selecting each word, garnering humming chuckles from the audience. At another moment in the set, she told us about her day, a very mundane list of events, culminating in the soup she swiftly poured down her throat seconds before coming on stage; I so badly wanted her to continue this soliloquy on soup that I forgot her songs were what brought me there. Just over halfway through the set, after a myriad of guitar changing and tuning, Lenker invited the night’s opening act, Nick Hakim, to join her for a rendition of 'Zombie Girl' from 2020’s songs. It was a stunning version, accompanied by piano, and I just wanted it to keep going. Luckily, others in the audience felt the same, with even one attendant requesting the song again. Lenker happily agreed, leaning over to Hakim on the piano to play it a “little slower this time”. It felt like an unreal event, one that I feel incredibly fortunate to experience.

I mention all of this under the umbrella of patience as I didn’t consider some gig goers may not have enjoyed the meandering nature of Lenker’s show. Even one of the people I went with expressed afterwards how they wished she had spent more time playing songs than talking. It is a valid opinion, especially when the time spent engaging with the crowd she could have spent playing more songs from her new record (of which she only played three!) I understand the frustration, and I understand how they may feel it is not what they paid for. However, I struggle to relate to these concerns, as the experience in my memory is taken up with moments of Lenker being herself, something that is incredibly special and singular in my mind.

There is not enough focus on the in between moments in live music. Of course, the performance of songs is what you go for, sometimes not meeting expectations, other times exceeding them. I felt compelled to write about this as it has occurred to me, nearly a month later, that my most cherished memories from Adrianne Lenker at Aviva Studios in Manchester, contains images of Lenker silently tuning up her guitar; of her rambling philosophies on lunch; of watching her mind tick before breaking into song. There is an art to the moments when it all goes quiet, a certain energy that performers either consciously or unconsciously cultivate. This energy is something I will look for in future live events; whether it takes away from the atmosphere of the moment, or whether it becomes a moment in itself, producing just a few minutes of singularity that I believe is special to be witness to.


About the Writer:

Callum Foulds is a poet and recording artist based in Nottingham, England. They enjoy good food, scary movies and playing with their cat. They can often be found reading on the couch, or agonising over whatever creative venture they are currently embarking on. @cf_oulds


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