Review: Low showed how to remain vital after decades at the Great Hall

Duluth, Minnesota’s Low are best known for their molasses-y post-rock sound, which they’ve been honing for the better part of 25 years. Though the trio established themselves in the 90s, they’ve steadily released 12 albums since then. Whereas bands of a similar vintage often turn their sets into career retrospectives, Low drew primarily from their five most recent albums during last night’s sold-out show at the Great Hall and did something few bands are capable of: demonstrate that their earliest work isn’t the prism through which their discography has to be understood.

In fact, the band’s latest album, Double Negative, sounds unlike anything else Low has ever recorded. It’s a gauzy, textural, abstract 45 minutes. The sounds coming from their bass, guitar and drums are familiar but almost unrecognizable – a fitting aesthetic choice for an album that contemplates the disorientation of life in Trump’s post-truth America.

The core of the band’s sound, which is evident on the record but becomes even clearer in a live setting, is the vocal harmonies courtesy of Alan Sparhawk (guitar) and Mimi Parker (percussion), who were joined by Steve Garrington on bass on the album and at this show. On stage, it was clear how well Sparhawk and Parker’s voices worked together. At first it seems like they complement each another because of how long they’ve been in a band (and also married), but early songs in the set like Quorum and No Comprende demonstrated those harmonies are the result of a band that truly listens to one another. They’re far from coasting on autopilot.

The rapt room felt completely silent in awed response, which lasted through the hour-and-a-half set. The quiet actually started before the set during the opening performance by Minneapolis-based IN / VIA (aka Nona Invie), whose delicate piano and voice-driven songs sent a hush throughout the venue.

Low occasionally took advantage of that silence, with Sparhawk’s marvelous fretwork filling the space with a heaviness that the band’s records never quite prepare you for. But it’s Low’s vocals that connect their material, making recent droning and noisy departures like Dancing And Blood fit so well alongside more straightforward classic-style Low songs like Spanish Translation from 2015’s Ones And Sixes and Especially Me, from 2011’s C’mon.

The usually chatty Sparhawk was fairly mum throughout the set, letting his appreciation show by dusting off of older songs like Do You Know How To Waltz? and Lazy. The two were played back to back, tethered to previous track Holy Ghost by an almost shoegazey performance. Every instrument bled into the next. The bleary sonics from those 90s cuts perfectly paired with the new material – an effective detour into the past without ever feeling like a nostalgia trip. Instead, it was a fluid connection to the present.


NOVEMBER 7, 2018

11:42 AM


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