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Monday, June 27, 2022

Low review – human warmth fills music of social collapse | Low

As Low walk on stage, there’s the usual air of anticipation from fans, but with it a sense of tentative concern. How is this band of two married Minnesotans and a bassist, on a spacious stage, going to recreate the crushed concentration of an album like Hey What – a continuation of the experimental distortion of sound that surprised fans and critics on its predecessor, 2018’s Double Negative?

Beginning with the stop-start staccato of Hey What’s opener White Horses, any such thoughts soon fall away. Dressed in black, guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker, alongside Liz Draper who has replaced the band’s previous bassist Steve Garrington on tour, unleash a sustained, charged ambient cacophony that settles on the reverent crowd. Playing Hey What in almost its entirety, keening riffs and thundering drums recreate the techno distortions of the studio album. Silhouetting the musicians are three pillars of horizontal lights, like tall windows with venetian blinds through which branches, cars and streetlights appear. “I’m awake / Must be another day,” sings Sparhawk on I Can Wait, as a mood of desperation takes hold.

From left: Alan Sparhawk, Liz Draper and Mimi Parker.
Keening riffs and thundering drums … from left: Alan Sparhawk, Liz Draper and Mimi Parker. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/the Guardian

Moving into their older albums, the same discomforting spell is held. Sparhawk dedicates No Comprende to a machete-wielding man he met in a Tennessee hotel, an absurd, end-the-world image that feeds into the hot paranoia of the song, as crimson lights soak the band.

Across their last two albums, Low have been documenting the emotions of living through social collapse, distilling their anxieties into apocalyptic clouds of abrasive instrumentals. But always piercing through are Sparhawk and Parker’s voices, which, without digital effects, offer an anchor of human warmth. There’s sweetness to the couple’s harmonies and their on stage connection. “If you can’t tell by the body language, I’m being told to calm down,” Sparhawk says as Parker smiles. The gentle strumming guitar of Silver Rider and romantic sincerity of Will the Night close the set: the two older Low songs are a balm after the intensity of the evening. With a gentle “goodnight friends,” from Sparhawk, who begins to shuffle off stage still clutching his guitar, Low’s spell finally breaks. It’s less a triumph and more a gift of solace against the cruelty of the outside world, glimpsed through blinds.

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