Plastic chairs, cups of coffee and guitar tuning were abundant during Adrianne Lenker’s intimate set at the Cedar Cultural Center on Thursday.
Clutching a cup of tea, Lenker trotted onto the stage. “So yummy,” she said, taking a sip.
Lenker’s family moved to Nisswa, Minnesota from Indiana when she was a kid. With family still in the state, the singer-songwriter mentioned how the show felt like coming home to her. Standing behind the mic in baggy clothes and a shy smile, she began to play.
The style of the show was similar to Lenker’s music: not too flashy. The artist's sincerity made it easy to connect with her even though she rarely made eye contact with the audience.
Lenker began the set with a number of songs from her band Big Thief, including “Orange,” “Pretty Things” and “Masterpiece.” Emotion flooded through the speakers while she gently sang certain lines like, “Don’t take me for a fool/ There’s a woman inside of me.”
“Hours Were the Birds” and a grittier version of “Kerina” followed, as Lenker moved to music from her solo albums. Between each song, the artist meticulously tuned her guitar.
On the surface, the simplicity of the set may have seemed dull. However, Lenker’s evident belief in her lyrics made it difficult to look away. The sold out show somehow felt like a performance in someone’s living room.
Lenker soon moved to her latest album “abysskiss” and invited opening act Luke Temple to the stage. Her and Temple exchanged smiles and laughs while leaning in toward each other.
What came through the speakers was unexpected. “terminal paradise” was transformed into an airy track that haunted the whole room. Lenker’s acoustic guitar was accompanied by the distorted sound of Temple’s electric guitar; her vocals echoed out of the mic with high reverb.
A synth-like piano then replaced the electric guitar in “cradle.” The airy sound transformed into a fullness that flowed through the room.
Lenker looked into the crowd for a moment; the audience stared back attentively.
“Minnesota, getting the party going,” Lenker said, laughing.
While Lenker’s music is overwhelmingly quiet and heavy, her interactions with those in the room were light. She frequently smiled and cracked jokes to alleviate the tension she purposely added while attentively tuning after each song.
At one point, she paused to tell the room that she got her guitar from Willie’s American Guitars in St. Paul when she was 14-years-old.
“I think people used to tune more,” she said. “It’s gone out of fashion, but I’m bringing it back.”
Lenker gave her guitar a few words of encouragement before finishing the night with a new song.
She made more eye contact with those sitting in front of her during this song than she did the entire show, singing of emptiness, asking questions and seeking answers. The line, “What’s on your mind?” was repeated with a had-to-have-been-there-to-feel-it heaviness.
After Lenker left the stage, she promptly ran back out to do an encore, something she said she doesn’t typically do.
“Indiana” and another new song finished off the set. Lenker thanked her team and the team at the Cedar for helping her officially finish her tour.
The show was captivating because of its simple nature. Lenker pulled no gimmicks, just sweet, genuine music.