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Singer-songwriter Buck Meek’s vulnerable folk-country crooning takes over Lincoln Hall

Buck Meek, the lead guitarist of indie folk band Big Thief and unique singer-songwriter in his own right, has been on tour since August 2023 in support of his most recent album, “Haunted Mountain.” On Friday, May 24, Meek took the stage at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall for an entrancing and heavy set of folk-based rock.

The night’s show was opened up by fellow Texan Jolie Holland, who played material from her most recent album, also titled “Haunted Mountain.” The title track to both LP’s was co-written by Meek and Holland and two separate versions appear on the two respective albums. In a live setting, Holland’s gravely, hauntingly beautiful voice showed a different, much darker side to her song and her guitar playing was understated but ferocious.

Near the end of Holland’s set, Meek emerged from backstage, and together they sang their duet, “Highway 72,” off of Holland’s album. The duet has a timeless feel and the kind of desolate yearning only the rarest songwriters can achieve, as proven in the chorus, “I won’t know where I’m headed till I’m further along/One foot in front of the other on the lost highway/One foot in front of the other on the lost highway.” With each song she played, the audience responded kindly in applause after a quiet, trancelike engagement with the music.

As Meek took the stage — sharing the same bandmates as Holland — he quickly jumped into “Pareidolia,” a song from his sophomore album, “Two Saviors.” Meek was engaged with his audience in a gentle manner, and the room shared some laughs on a couple occasions as guitarist Adam Brisban joked about Holland’s former job selling hamsters. 

Unlike the laid-back, folk-country pace of Meek’s work, while performing live, he and his band can reach an intensity similar to some of Big Thief’s sonically heavier material. A standout moment of the night was when Meek stomped his guitar pedal for a fuzzed-out, frantic solo during “Where You’re Coming From.” Unlike his role as lead guitarist in Big Thief, Meek took a step back and assumed the role of mostly rhythm guitar when with his solo band, letting Brisban take over the lead. Brisban’s lightning-speed energy on guitar allowed him to get lost in playing without becoming redundant or taking up space for the songs to breathe. As Brisban bobbed back and forth with his eyes locked on the strings, his presence turned gentle songs such as “Didn’t Know You Then,” into fast-paced moments that kept the crowd alive and cheering. 

Contrarily, during songs such as “Dream Daughter,” also from 2021’s “Two Saviors,” Brisban showed a gentler, more innovative side to his playing with some otherworldly slide guitar. One of the very last songs of the night, “Fool Me,” an earlier cut from Meek’s 2018 debut self-titled LP, let his craft really shine. Meek’s greatest strength as a musician is his vulnerability, and the slow-paced ballad had the essence of classic country crooners by songwriters of a bygone era. He let the soft, Southern twang ring out in his voice.

The night’s encore consisted of a couple newly written songs, “Deja Vu” and “Outta Body.” Meek thanked the audience with quiet sincerity and noted that both he and Holland would be present at their merch table after the show — making it clear he’d be waiting to meet everyone over there, which is just what he did. Several concertgoers stood in line to show their support by buying records, CDs and handwritten lyric sheets while also talking with Meek for a second. With such passionate music as Meek’s, it’s no surprise that the artist behind it is just as endearing to the people who make up his listeners.

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