Adrianne Lenker charms folk fans at the United Theater

The beloved singer-songwriter gave a dazzling performance Downtown.

Adrianne Lenker, a modern folk sensation, delighted fans at the United Theater. (Halo Lyman / Daily Trojan)

On Saturday night, waves of young Angelenos flocked to the United Theater on Broadway to share a cozy evening with indie folk superstar Adrianne Lenker. Dressed in anything from cottagecore ensembles to Canadian tuxedos, everyone wore their weekend’s best to sway along to Lenker’s wistful, soul-stirring tracks.

After some 1,600 fans excitedly flowed into the venue, folk musician Buck Meek promptly arrived onstage to perform a solo opening set with just his vocals and guitar. As Meek seated himself in one of two antique wooden chairs onstage, he centered himself on the Persian rug between two neon blue lava lamps, which gave the cavernous venue a more intimate, “living room” feeling tinged with whimsicality and ’00s nostalgia. 

Meek, perhaps best known as the guitarist of Big Thief, joined part of Lenker’s “Bright Future” tour to perform an opening set of his solo work as well as a couple of duets with Lenker during the main set. He adeptly played his acoustic guitar from beginning to end of the 11-song performance, pausing only to retune between songs. 

During the set, Meek played two unreleased songs — “Déjà Vu” and “Outta Body.” Citing advice he received from Lenker herself, Meek said, “If we have new songs, we have to perform them on tour … That’s a rule I learned from Adrianne.”

After the 20-minute intermission, a shy Adrianne Lenker shuffled onstage in a hoodie, jeans and cowboy boots while sipping from a cup of coffee. She set up her guitar and footstool, opting to hold her instrument in the traditional style of classical guitarists as a nod to her formal training. 

Breaking the silence with “The Only Place,” a Big Thief song released on the band’s last studio album, the crowd listened in awe as Lenker’s hypnotizing guitar arpeggios saturated the cathedral-like space. While the “Bright Future” tour is meant to advertise Lenker’s newest record, she performed an eclectic mix of songs written for herself as a solo artist as well as those she wrote for Big Thief. 

Drawing from “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You,” Lenker performed a haunting, unplugged version of “Simulation Swarm” with guitar freestyling galore. She also chose to do a solo rendition of the album’s title track and followed it soon after with fan favorite “Certainty” alongside Buck Meek in a double-guitar duet.

While Lenker has been on her world tour with a variety of stage guests since April, Saturday night, she took on the role of a host with a rotating wheel of guests who each brought their own unique touches and talents to the stage — Meek, who performed on two separate occasions; folk songwriter legend Steve Fisher, much to the crowd’s surprise; and Nick Hakim and Josefin Runsteen, musical accompanists featured on various tracks of “Bright Future.”

Lenker, who jokingly admitted that she needed to follow the advice she gave Meek, played two of her own unreleased songs: one untitled about her devotion to a romantic partner, and the other being the title track of “Bright Future.” The latter song drew strong inspiration from the ways nature communicates the passing of time, with temporality, impermanence and the beauty of the natural world as prominent motifs in Adrianne’s work. 

While Lenker made sure to perform oldies like “symbol” from her 2018 album “abysskiss,” she also performed several crowd-pleasers, such as “anything” and “not a lot, just forever,” which have both been met with recent unprecedented praise on TikTok as trending audios. These two tracks from Lenker’s 2020 album “songs” have skyrocketed the folk artist to new levels of fame — particularly among younger listeners — hundreds of whom had their phones ready to record both performances.

As Lenker serenaded her audience on the warm summer evening, friends sang and danced together in their seats, couples snuggled close to each other, and the sold-out theater erupted in applause after every song of the night. Members of the crowd additionally peppered whoops, whistles, and cheers throughout the set, expressing excitement to hear Lenker perform for the first time in L.A. since last summer when she was on tour with Big Thief.

When accompanists and backup vocalists Hakim and Runsteen joined Lenker for the second half of the set, the trio’s voices melted together in lilting harmonies reminiscent of The Roches. With each voice carrying a different timbre, they still came together especially beautifully for “not a lot, just forever” and “No Machine.”

During the show, Lenker’s otherworldly lyricism, inviting stage presence, and guitar-plucking and strumming earned her copious praise from her co-performers, with Meek saying, “I’m so proud of Adrianne [with] her world expanding, and she’s one of the greats of all time.” In a show of gratitude, Fisher told the audience “it’s been the honor of a lifetime” to perform on the Western leg of Lenker’s United States tour. 

Following Lenker’s playful one-song encore, “Time Escaping,” she blew the audience copious amounts of kisses before waving goodbye for the night. As the audience filed out of the United Theater, conversation buzzed in the air, and not a soul could stop talking about the once-in-a-generation talents of Adrianne Lenker.

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