Live Music + Gig Reviews

Low @ Barbican, London

30 April 2013

The near-universal praise bestowed on their 10th album The Invisible Way seemed to confirm Low as one of the most consistent and critically acclaimed bands of the last decade. It is songs from this album that make up the majority of their set at the Barbican tonight, but they also find space for selections from their impressive back catalogue.

In terms of length it is a slightly shorter set compared to previous visits to the capital – something that suggests they know they no longer need to over-extend themselves. There’s evidence of a slightly more clear-minded, almost professional focus also – the set is executed precisely, with little hesitation and minimal audience interaction, and they no longer engage in the kind of on-stage consultation that used to characterise encores of earlier shows.

As ever, it is fascinating to witness the detail of their live show, how subtle changes are enforced and how they play off each other. The importance played by the eye contact between Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker and how it guides their set is particularly striking.

There’s a reverential hush as they take to the stage and they immediately establish the tone for the evening with the ruminative, primordial beauty of Plastic Cup. Tracks from The Invisible Way dominate the early stages with Holy Ghost in particular confirming that hearing Mimi Parker’s tremulous voice is still one of the most breathtakingly beautiful experiences to be had in a live environment. Hers is a voice where every millisecond and every last minute detail needs to be savoured and cherished. Given what follows, the line about how the protagonist of the song “feeds my passion for transcendence” is particularly appropriate. It is impossible for a gig by Low to be anything other than a transcendent, transporting experience.

The concealed majesty of Amethyst is unveiled at a monolithic pace while Mother demonstrates another side to their music, namely one that can convey moments of sweet intimacy in an effortless, elementary way. The sinewy, ragged might of Clarence White meanwhile proves that Sparhawk has a voice and range that is equally capable of single-handedly slaying audiences. Elsewhere, the gently rippling calmness of Four Score is contrasted by the glorious pop triumph of Just Make It Stop. So Blue closes the main set, the accumulated intensity of the piano arpeggios finding a match in Parker’s heroically beautiful and moving vocals.

Several of their other albums are also represented tonight. Words is a reminder of their beginnings, the purity and simplicity of the vocal harmonies being in marked contrast to the guitar dynamics explored later in their career. Tonight, this latter quality is acknowledged in the hard-edged primal riff of Canada and the creeping, sinister point of difference offered by live show staple Pissing. Especially Me still allies heartbreaking tenderness to melodic power, while Soon (from Secret Name, arguably still their finest album) proves once again that they are at their best when they are at their quietest, stillest and most bare.

The precious, eternal beauty of Over The Ocean opens the encore, followed by In Metal and When I Go Deaf, a pleasingly succinct, career-spanning trio. They close with I Hear…Goodnight, which although tonight may lack the violin of Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis that graced the recorded version, still sounds utterly exquisite and closes the show perfectly.

The equation may remain fundamentally unchanged, but each Low show seems to offer new revelations. Tonight’s show demonstrated them to be fantastic, versatile and accomplished musical communicators, capable of engaging audiences like few others. Time stands still while emotional thresholds are quietly and gracefully demolished. It’s an intoxicating, hypnotic event that never diminishes in power regardless of how many times it is experienced.


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