Low – Live

Royal Festival Hall, London – 03/04/2012
Permalink : http://mostlyferocious.com/2012/04/17/low-royal-festival-hall-london

Low CountdownI consider myself a relative newcomer to Low, having seen them only once before. I saw them at Primavera Sound in Barcelona two years ago performing one of their albums, ‘The Great Destroyer’ in its entirety. For someone who had never heard their music before it was something of a revelation. Low have long been termed with the genre ‘slow-core’ on account of the speed on their tracks, their minimal arrangements, and downbeat lyrics – which, given the tension this creates, makes for an almost religious experience.

Following that performance I listened to some of their albums, but nothing lived up to the live experience. I don’t know their songs intimately, and I didn’t spend long with their albums. For me, Low have always been a live act first and foremost.

Tonight we’re being treated to a performance by Low (this is a performance, as opposed to a ‘gig’ – their fans take them that seriously) at London’s prestigious Royal Festival Hall. It’s a unique venue in a unique space; on the Southbank.

Low ProposalOn entering the auditorium we are handed an envelope with the words, ‘A Proposal From Low’ clumsily typed across it. The contents detail the response to a tender from Low to visual artists; to compose a suitable backdrop for tonight’s show. The proposal was taken up by UK artist, Peter Liversidge. We’re clearly in for a treat.

After a huge digital countdown on stage, the band appear all dressed in black, and without a word launch into ‘Nothing but Heart’ from their latest album, ‘C’mon’. What starts as a simple, minimal piece slowly builds into a huge kaleidoscopic wall of sound. Lyrics are repeated as the track gets louder and louder. The first track in, and the audience is mesmerized. Liversidge’s visuals behind the band are projected onto three huge screens and show black and white footage of stunt planes and daredevils taken from the early part of the 20th century. The danger of some of the stunts is sometimes very difficult to watch; we see wing walking and aerial escapology. It adds to the aural experience immaculately.

At the core of Low are Alan Sparhawk and his wife Mimi Parker. As a live act they are joined by bassist/pianist Steve Garrington and keyboard player Eric Pollard.

Low LightsThe first half of the set is dominated by other tracks from last year’s ‘C’mon’; ‘Try To Sleep’, ‘Nightingale’, ‘Witches’. Lots of the tracks are led vocally by Sparhawk, with Parker playing minimal (brushed) drums and harmonies. It’s the blend of vocal tones that is most disarming with Low. Their voices are so at odds, yet so complimentary it’s a joy to hear. One of the tracks Parker leads vocally is probably my favourite from ‘C’mon’, ‘Especially You’. When heard live this track is spine tingling, and lyrically heartbreaking all at once. Between tracks the audience is held to a whisper.

Low then delve further back into their work and we’re treated to early favourites, ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Little Argument with Myself’. The pivotal moment of the show comes with ‘Everybody’s Song’ from ‘The Great Destroyer’, which is a huge loud, brash, dramatic track. Guitar is bashed out sounding lazy, dirty and unpredictable. The noise builds to a wall of sound and reaches a high point as Sparhawk screams into his guitar pickup. In all of the times I’ve visited the Festival Hall I don’t think I’ve heard the venue be used to such epic acoustic proportions. It was literally seminal.

Low Royal Festival HallAlthough feeling as if we could be nearing the end of the set we’re treated to the more sedate, ‘In The Drugs’ and the delicate beauty of ‘Silver Rider’. Again, the harmonies created between Sparhawk and Parker build an intensity so strong it’s palpable.

‘Words’ set the slow-core stalwarts ablaze from 1994’s ‘I Could Live In Hope’. ‘Pissing’ and ‘Murderer’ complete the full set of fans’ favourites. ‘Murderer’ is as daunting and dangerous here as was the first time it was heard.

‘From Your Place On Sunset’ ends the set beautifully, and even after two hours I could happily listen to more. It’s sometimes extreme, and always intense, but their sound never gets old.

The encore comprises of the incredibly delicate ‘Shame’, ‘Dinosaur Act’ and ‘$20’ from ‘C’mon’. The latter sounds, as we began with ‘Nothing But Heart’ with repetitive lines ‘My love is for free’, which rings in our ears long after the performance.

Royal Festival HallEven when filing out of the venue, the audience is visibly reeling. If anyone is talking, it’s in deep discussion about the set list. I was speechless for a while, still taking stock of what we had seen. When you’ve been held with that much tension and emotion for the duration of a set so beautiful, it’s difficult to re-assimilate and sum into words what has been experienced. As with the first performance I saw of Low, I found seeing them live to be an incredibly personal experience, while (ironically) sat in a room full of people. I think this is possibly the key to seeing Low, they make a performance sound personal to you, whilst playing to the masses.

Set List :
Nothing But Heart
Try to Sleep
Hand so Small
Especially Me
Little Argument With Myself
Everybody’s Song
In the Drugs
Silver Rider
From Your Place on Sunset

Dinosaur Act

Mike Conyard

(Photos by Clare Barrins)