thu 18/07/2024

The Low Anthem, Roundhouse | reviews, news & interviews

The Low Anthem, Roundhouse

The Low Anthem, Roundhouse

An absorbing evening from the defiantly uncategorisable Rhode Island band

The Low Anthem: quietly marvellous

This show was memorable almost as much for the audience as it was for the music.

The Roundhouse was perhaps two-thirds full for a show that The Low Anthem’s singer Ben Knox Miller said was “the biggest gig of their career” (adding: “And I’ve never called it a ‘career’ before”), but those who were there had clearly come to see the band rather than catch up on gossip, because the audience’s attention was absolute, their silence total; I can scarcely recall a gig where the crowd’s concentration was so complete.

The objects of their attention were a band from Providence, Rhode Island who have been growing steadily in popularity since they were formed five years ago, but who are still something of a niche attraction. Defiantly uncategorisable, The Low Anthem play music that’s a little bit folk, a little bit country and a little bit indie rock; it brings to mind the slow, gentle high-register beauty of Radar Brothers, the lyrical acuity of Leonard Cohen and the quirky solo material of Mark Hollis (it’s a woodwind thing). On stage at the Roundhouse there were four of them, three chaps and a woman; between them they played a bewildering multitude of instruments – clarinet, trumpets, harmonium, banjo (played at one point with a bow), upright bass, electric bass, guitars, plus a saw, which Miller, in his loose, rumpled checked shirt, looked as if he had just fetched from his garage – to create a sound that was organic, warm, rootsy and unmistakably American, but which entirely transcended the cheesy sentimentality that afflicts so much of that country’s so-called country music.

Occasionally, they strapped on electric guitars and actually rocked out, but the results were pretty unimpressive

Opening with the title track from this year’s Smart Flesh album, they spent the show swapping instruments effortlessly (I think the drummer is actually a better double bassist than he is a drummer), with Jocie Adams in particular showing extraordinary versatility (trumpet, clarinet, bass, crotales and keyboards were among her repertoire). Oh, and they could all sing beautifully, with the closeness of their harmonies putting to shame the somewhat predictable arrangements of those Fleet Foxes. Ben Knox Miller’s clear, wide-ranging voice, meanwhile, was at its best in falsetto mode.

Occasionally, and unexpectedly, they strapped on electric guitars and actually rocked out, but I have to say that the results were pretty unimpressive: they just seemed to be acting out some cathartic need to make some noise and bang stuff, rather than making real rock music; it was crude meat-and-potatoes stuff, with “Boeing 737” the only one of the “noisy” songs to raise a smidgen of interest, with its soaring chords. Also, they’re a naturally diffident bunch, and to see them suddenly transformed into swaggering, gurning indie kids was a bit undignified.

No, sireee: for me the best songs were the chamber-folk tunes such as “To Ohio”, with its wistful and evocative lyrics. Or the moments such as the one when all four band members clustered around the microphone to sing, with minimal accompaniment, the song that’s perhaps their best-known tune, “Charlie Darwin” (from their 2008 Oh My God, Charlie Darwin album). Exquisite harmonies, and (sorry to keep banging on about this, but it really impressed me) total silence from the crowd.

And at the end of this absorbing show, the audience’s attentiveness was rewarded during a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire”, for which the band were joined on stage by support acts William Elliott Whitmore and Simon Felice. Suddenly Ben Knox Miller turned the microphone towards the crowd and gestured for them to sing along; they needed some encouragement, but slowly a beautiful rich sound emerged. It might sound a bit hokey in print, but really, it was a lovely way to end a night of rich and memorable music.

Watch The Low Anthem perform "To Ohio"

The sound was organic, warm, rootsy and unmistakably American, but entirely transcended the cheesy sentimentality that afflicts so much of that country’s so-called country music


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Great review. I love this band and agree with the comments about the louder songs. These guys are best when they are huddled around the mic singing quietly. Shame the photos you have are all old ones and don't actually include the correct fourth member of the band though...

Yes, I agree. A great review. I was one of the respectfully attentive audience member (and Hoorah, no-one even filming with phones). I'd not heard of The Low Anthem before, but I would recommend them -and especially live - to anyone.

Fourth time I have seen them last night after The Tabernacle, Green Man Festival and the South Bank. Absolutely fantastic - they semed very relaxed and happy last night. Beautiful, beautiful music that had the audience in raptures. If every band in the world was lined up in a row and were asked 'Who is the best band in the world?', I hope every other band would have the grace and good judgment to take a swift step backwards before the Low Anthem had a chance to move. They are out in front. Peerless.

Overall perhaps the best evening of music ever since I saw my first band in 1972. Simeon Felice gave an assured performance and I await his cd with eager anticipation. I'd seen him with the Felice Brothers but this was a new, serious and stunning performance. William Elliott Whitmore spoke with the front rows before his slot, great guy, powerful voice and songs which painted a real picture for me. Great stuff. The Low Anthem were amazing. It was my third gig, including the memorable one in the QE Hal where they mopved to play in the audience. This was even better, the old railway roundhouse providing a most suitable setting for the group whose last cd was recorded in an empty pasts factory. Their music is always interesting, and I for one love the sheer anarchy of their up tempo numbers - maybe you need to know them well to 'get it'?. I kept turning to my wife saying 'love this one' so it is hard to name a best song, but the first of the encore was brilliant (Don't Let Nobody Turn You Round). Get yourselves back here soon please!

The review is pretty accurate. The venue is a fantastic vehicle for these kind of acts. I only discovered The Low Anthem on t'internet several months back but instantly became hugely hooked. Intelligent americana/folk/miserablana that I love. Have to say I was hugely dissapointed with the cacophony of racket that was supposed to be the bands faster numbers. With so many mellow tracks you without question need some uptempo stuff, but sorry gang this was pretty horrible - pushing the boundaries a tad too far i'm afraid. All seemed very self indulgent. Stick to the beauty of the gentler ballads or at least keep a tune in the up stuff please. Both support acts were excellent and fitted the bill well.

I sort of agree and disagree with the comments about the louder songs. The sound was remarkably poor I felt, which is unusual for the Roundhouse - maybe it was the Low Anthem's own sound crew struggling to cope with a fairly unusual acoustic venue? As a result the louder songs sounded muddy and boomy, but having heard these both on the album and live before I can assure people who haven't experienced the Low Anthem yet that the louder songs can be a highlight.

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