Minnesotan trio’s effortlessly transcendent show confirms they’re still a breathtaking live proposition, offering up experiences to be cherished forever
Low have always been a band that have explored different textures and dynamics within their music but even by their standards the last few years have involved something of a remarkable creative renaissance. 2018’s Double Negative marked something of a turning point with its more pronounced use of electronics, manipulation and abstraction and last year’s Hey What continued the journey, pivoting to distortion and abrasion.
Their current UK tour, tonight calling at St. George’s Church in Brighton, offers the first chance to hear tracks from the latter in person and see to what extent the sound is replicated in the live environment. The show is broadly divided into two halves, the first consisting of the album played in full in order which is then followed by a selection from their back catalogue, a sort of ‘greatest hits’ curation (although given their prodigious output, fitting everything into two hours is simply not possible).
First up in support are Divide & Dissolve. Comprising Takiaya Reed on guitar and saxophone and Sylvie Nehill on drums, they play an impactful set drawing from latest album Gas Lit. Most of the tracks may follow a similar structure, namely looped sax intros being overtaken by powerful, scorched earth guitar drones with accompanying percussive eruptions, but it’s an undeniably striking spectacle. Reed offers strident, anti-racist, political spoken commentary alongside the music, her message being firmly centred around opposing white supremacy. It’s a combination designed to confront and challenge and while they still may not be the finished article, there’s enough to intrigue most of tonight’s crowd.
When Low take to the stage new bassist Liz Draper lines up alongside Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker and they head straight into a full performance of Hey What. Opening song White Horses may not feature the full guitar onslaught of the record, but like all of tonight’s tracks, it’s instilled with a characteristically unique power, Sparhawk extracting a raw, brutal sound from his guitar. It is deliberately dismantled as it closes, before seguing into I Can Wait which sees him occasionally step back from the microphone to allow his vocals to be projected unamplified, a tactic he’s now employed for approaching two decades, still to stunning effect.
The next two tracks show how they make inspired changes specifically for the live environment. All Night begins with the foregrounded voices of Sparhawk and Parker, before they rebuild it until it reaches a mountainous, skyscraping beauty. It then continues to burn with a quiet, luminous flame, all ruptured atmospheres and volcanic sonic activity. Disappearing, meanwhile is a gloriously heavy slab of noise, transformed and invigorated, an undoubted highlight of the set. Hey follows, proving how it’s likely to remain one of their most beautiful moments, courtesy of Parker’s exquisite vocals. These early moments show they’re still a breathtaking live proposition.
When it was released as a single, Days Like These offered a microcosm of what was to follow in full on the album and tonight it balances cacophony with beauty, Sparhawk delivering his vocals with an unconcealed, reprimanding righteousness, complemented by white hot shocks of anger from his guitar. Later, Don’t Walk Away offers a moment of respite and tenderness amid the maelstrom, like being in the eye of a hurricane, bathed in calming light. “I have slept beside you now for what seems a thousand years” they sing in unison, perhaps the most moving of many supremely poignant moments. It shows how their voices are still utterly key within their new, darker soundworld.
2015’s Ones And Sixes is the best represented album in the show’s second half, featuring three of its tracks. No Comprendre is all smouldering rumination, Congregation serves as a reminder of their ability to reach spaces of purity and clarity and What Part Of Me projects a pop sensibility alongside the pretty fragility. Together they suggest that the album should occupy a higher place than it occasionally does in any appraisal of their discography.
Long term fan favourites and setlist staples Sunflower and Monkey are rightfully retained, the former still effortlessly transcendent, the latter all serrated melodies and expansive forms. Disarray is tonight’s only foray into Double Negative, a reminder of how they can hold on to the past while reaching ever forward for the future. Much has already been said about their voices but the way they intertwine, the way notes are held and the way control is carefully exercised is never less than magical.
They possess a finely honed knowledge of when to reduce and when to augment and two examples arrive in the encore. Two-Step remains a uniquely captivating, minimalist moment, the perfect distillation of their sound and they end with a joyous, celebratory When I Go Deaf. Not that any is needed, but tonight provided confirmation of how their shows are truly special events, places where connections are forged and strengthened, offering up experiences to be cherished forever.
Low played: White Horses, I Can Wait, All Night, Disappearing, Hey, Days Like These, Don’t Walk Away, More, The Price You Pay (It Must Be Wearing Off), Congregation, No Comprende, Sunflower, Disarray, Plastic Cup, Monkey, What Part Of Me, Especially Me, Nothing But Heart. Encore: Two-Step, When I Go Deaf.