wed 20/10/2021

Low, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Low, Royal Festival Hall

Low, Royal Festival Hall

Forget the slowcore tag, Low deal in a unique form of Americana

Low: (left to right) Alan Sparhawk, live bassist Steve Garrington and Mimi Parker

Low don’t really look as though they’re given to ostentatious display. With their black shirts, polished footwear and sensible haircuts, they could be waiting staff in a formal restaurant. One with a lot of dark wood and banquettes. The Hendrix-like squall that preceded last night’s set opener “Nothing But Heart” quickly subsided. These flashes are enough to show how intensely Low’s hidden fires burn.

On “Drugs”, Sparhawk sang “I was a child, I was on fire, I stayed alive while all else died”. The fundamental tension at the heart of Low is a battle between intensity and their self-defined minimalism and spareness. It’s this tension that made last night so striking, so memorable.

Sometimes, Low sound like Neil Young on a foggy day

Although this concert came on the back of last year’s C'mon album, there’s an awful lot of Low out there. It was their ninth album. The first was issued in 1994. There are innumerable EPs, singles and compilation appearances. Last night's set drew from C’mon, but also aired “Words” from debut album I Could Live in Hope. But it didn't feel like a greatest hits set, even though the intro of “Sunflower”, from 2001’s Things we Lost in the Fire, generated applause.

Apart from a flirtation with electronic beats on 2007’s Drums and Guns, Low have (fairly) rigidly stuck to what they do: metronomically paced elegiac songs with flashes of guitar dissonance and vocal melodies that draw from gospel and country. Sometimes, this means they sound like Neil Young on a foggy day, sometimes it means they sound like Judy Collins fronting “Albatross”-era Fleetwood Mac. And then there’s the hints of Hendrix.

There was nothing small about the sound rolling off the Festival Hall’s stage

Sparhawk and his wife Mimi Parker are Low’s core. Live, they're joined by bassist/pianist Steve Garrington and keyboard player Eric Pollard. Stood up behind a stripped-down drum kit - a floor tom, snare and two cymbals - Parker favoured brushes and soft-headed beaters. Sparhawk played through an amp barely bigger than an LP cover. Yet there was nothing small or soft about the sound rolling off the Festival Hall’s stage. “Especially Me” was a giant slab of layered guitar with a heartbeat rhythm. C’Mon’s “Witches” had the power of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer”. Low understand dynamics.

It’s hard to place Sparhawk's voice. He doesn’t speak much. No one else in the expanded live line up says a word. There’s a drawl, but no country twang. Many of rock’s minimal maximalists (say Dean Wareham) adopt a Lou Reed style. But Sparhawk has a more rural delivery. He and Parker are from Duluth, Minnesota. Bob Dylan and Bob Mould are the only fellow Minnesotans who immediately spring to mind, but their's and Sparhawk's voice are different creatures. Parker is easier to pin down, on a line between the folk of Judy Collins and the country of both Skeeter Davis and Emmylou Harris, but more reined in.

Low are pegged as slowcore, a sort of post-rock that means snail’s pace heaviness. That’s not what they are. Last night firmly cast them as practitioners of Americana. An Americana that’s all their own.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Watch the video for "Try to Sleep", from Low's C'mon

The fundamental tension between Low's intensity and their minimalism made last night so memorable

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

It looked like he was singing into his guitar pick up from where I was sitting – doesn't strike me as the kind to play guitar with his gnashers.

Yes, seconded. Sparhawk sang into his pick up to distort the vocal. He didn't play with his teeth. I likewise, Can't see it ever happening.

I third the comment about teeth playing - he was singing into the pick up for distorted vocals -- && -- The projections what about the projections ? they were amazing the first time I've ever seen Low with a backdrop, have I missed others ?

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