Thursday, October 8, 2015

Low, Manchester Cathedral, 7th October 2015 9/10

Addressing the audience fully for the first time at the start of the encores, Alan Sparhawk told us to 'consider ourselves blessed'. In an ancient cathedral, the meaning of this statement depends upon your personal beliefs, but I felt much gratitude for finally experiencing the much loved indie band on the first show of their European tour. The song DJ, from Low's 11th studio album Ones and Sixes asks: 'you want religion, you want assurance, a resurrection, some kind of purpose?'. The aptly named Congregation from this album was omitted last night, but both lyrics and music feel deeply spiritual, the daring minimalism providing a welcome space for contemplation. This musical relationship explores the Mormon couple's relationship with God as much as with each other. Faith helps to explain the project's longevity, providing Low with the confidence to pursue their own, bold aesthetic, without temporal pressure to conform.

Slow, demanding music which shuns commercial compromise is hardly an obvious recipe for success, and in a world of short attention spans it's easy to imagine some might find it languorous. Even Mimi's drum kit is stripped down to the bare essentials to match the simple rhythms; Low is a single-minded, focused act. Austere, their songs 'ring like private prayer to a silent god' as CoS observed. For long periods, it felt like a mediation, and Mimi's harmonisation with her husband sounded incredibly beautiful. However, there's a darker aspect to Low, embodied in the apocalyptic explosions of distortion and noise in Alan's guitar playing. This unease is also expressed through the doom laden undertones in the lyrics, finding strong expression in Pissing from their seminal 2005 album The Great Destroyer, a song about succumbing to temptation.

To understand this more strident aspect of their work, it's important to appreciate Alan's battle with depression: in 2008 at the End of The Road Festival, he abruptly ended the performance by ripping the strings out of his guitar and throwing it into the crowd. The Innocents is literally about the end of time, urging: 'all you innocents, make a run for it': Mormons are perhaps vulnerable to dark, apocalyptic thoughts. Alan explained in an interview: 'sometimes the songs that I’ll write seem to be almost like a snapshot of a moment of confusion or loss of control.' He's in a better place now, and the set had a feeling of a journey towards the light, literally with the encore (That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace from  2002's Trust. There was little conventional audience interaction, but the intensity drew you into their world. In their early days, the crowd would often sit on the floor, and Alan apparently responded to extraneous noise by turning the volume down. There was no such danger in Manchester: everyone listened raptly, the atmosphere akin to Sunday morning Eucharist.

Low has previously supported Radiohead, reflecting their propensity for experimentation, and a willingness to challenge the audience. Ones and Sixes is their first album since 2007 to use drum machines, keyboards and electronics, but has a deep humanity and beauty. This stems from Low's integrity, drawing inspiration from a long term relationship and a sincerely held faith. Their authenticity aids the emotional connection, and in singing:  'What part of me don’t you know?' they're addressing not only their own marriage, but the audience's relationship to the band. Furthermore, the entire set was performed with an exquisite ear for detail, creating a taut, emotive atmosphere. As anyone classically trained will appreciate, it's  challenging to perform slow and quiet music, but Low has showed sensitivity and restraint. Live, the dynamic range between serenity and thunderous climaxes felt even more intense than in the studio, and the pace even more daringly measured. Low is gloriously idiosyncratic, a one-off in Indie music which rightly inspires such devotion.

Set List
  • Gentle
  • No Comprendre
  • Kid In The Corner
  • The Innocents
  • Plastic Cup (The Invisible Way)
  • On My Own (The Invisible Way)
  • Point Of Disgust (Trust)
  • Monkey (The Great Destroyer)
  • Spanish Translation
  • Lies
  • Into You
  • Pissing (The Great Destroyer)
  • DJ
  • What Part of Me
  • Will The Night (Songs For A Dead Pilot EP)
  • Landslide
  • That's How You Sing Amazing Grace (Encore from Trust)
  • When I Go Deaf (Encore from The Great Destroyer)

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