Live Music + Gig Reviews

Low @ Roundhouse, London

10 October 2015


Low (Photo: Zoran Orlic)

Low‘s back catalogue of releases is now so vast and extensive that it’s not even remotely possible to expect them to go through a lengthy parade of classics when they play a show. But it’s interesting to note just how much of their best work that they choose to omit – Murderer, Especially Me, Dinosaur Act, Words, Laser Beam and more – in order to show off where the Duluth outfit are at right now. Most bands would not be able to get away with that kind of bold statement, but the trio (husband-and-wife founding members Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, as well as Steve Garrington) have long earned the right to challenge their audience.

There’s also the fact that Ones And Sixes is, at least by their incredibly high standards, a fantastic record. Whilst it doesn’t have some of the immediate warmth as its predecessor, The Invisible Way, it still has a cold beauty that demands constant replays. As such, it doesn’t seem like too much of a big deal that Low’s set is mostly made of songs from that LP. Gentle is a chilling introduction that sets the tone early on. A sinister No Comprende and the foreboding The Innocents follow soon after, and What Part Of Me provides a nice, tender contrast. It all peaks with the main set’s closer – an outstanding version of Landslide. It sounds gnarly and tough to begin with, but then slowly turns an atmospheric wall of sound that is highly compelling to watch unfold.

There are also ample nods to other points of their career, any sense of unease or tension melts away. Sunflower from Things We Lost In The Fire remains on their most deeply melancholic pieces of work and Will The Night from Secret Name is wonderfully hymnal. Of the older material, it’s actually the two songs aired from The Invisible Way, that really shine. The wistful Plastic Cup is a wonderfully understated song, whilst majestic On My Own goes from januty to gigantic with aplomb – Sparhawk’s guitar roaring with doom-laden gusto for a good three of four minutes.

If only that sense of being locked in someone’s spell lasted a whole 90 minutes. The minimal and sparse nature of Low’s music requires the audience to really pay attention, which for some on a rowdy Saturday night in Camden proves to be tricky. About halfway through the set, it becomes painfully clear that this environment doesn’t suit them. The Roundhouse is a decent enough gig venue, but it’s easy to wonder if Low would be better served in theatres or slightly more intimate settings. Low are definitely worthy of playing big venues like the Roundhouse, but on this occasion, some of the magic is lost in the ether, making this is a satisfying experience rather than an otherworldly one.

Where they go from here is anyone’s guess – they’ve earned the right to change up their formula as much or as little as they want to – but either way, it remains a treat to hear such astonishingly beautiful music that can still make hairs stand on end, whilst Sparhawk’s and Parker’s harmonies only seem to get better as time goes on. In another venue on another day, this would have been a spellbinding performance.

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