Logan Square Auditorium – Chicago
Personally, I never would have guessed that 10+ years later Low would be the band that they are today; signed to Seattle’s Sub Pop, touring behind their 7th album, and growing steadily in stature. Their dark minimalist pop never inspired a throng of sound-alike bands, but remained consistent and beautiful over the years. With the release of The Great Destroyer there was a definite shift in tone. The subtle aggression that hid in the lyrics now bristled into the jagged, almost dirty songs from the album. Songs that would previously build on the rising interplay of husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi, now found their voice with an equally emotive cloud of guitar dissonance. The initial tour behind The Great Destroyer also saw an abrupt end as Sparhawk suffered a nervous breakdown and checked himself into a hospital. This Chicago date marked the second show since the end of the last tour. I hadn’t even heard about the whole affair till it was told to me on the way to the show.
From the first song of their set, you can see why it clicks. The music is ethereal, transcendent with a shot of tension breaking through the middle. Alan Sparhawk functions as an odd front man, commanding in a subtle, unassuming way. With the album opener from The Great Destroyer, the song “Monkey” is a good illustration of the shift in their sound. Though not wholly different, the interplay of rising harmonies is cradled by the stomp of the floor tom and bristling guitar distortion. You can easily tell the old from the new, where the drums fall muted while accompanied by barely there skeletal, yet lucid guitar work. On the song “Trust,” you can see how they shimmer, injecting such emotion into a vast musical space; the simplicity of the song drenched in a vaguely southwestern, reverbed twang. The sudden beauty of the mournful guitar solo in the middle of the song was greeted with mid-song applause. Sparhawk’s face broke into an innocent smile as he comically bowed while thanking the audience. This only momentarily broke the beauty of the song with a touching bit of humanity before he stepped back up to the mic to continue singing.
The almost anthemic “California” brought the pace up slightly and was probably one of the most engaging moments of both the last album and the show. The ache in his voice is clear, reflected in the somber lyrics of the song. He fumbled slightly, having to tune his guitar in mid song. You have to wonder if knowing that someone has recently had a breakdown will make you over-scrutinize them. The little mistakes that peppered the set caught my attention. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but think that the knowledge of his recent breakdown was just making me overanalyze his behavior. When he’d he fucked up just after singing the line “you had your plans,” he turned to his wife, sheepishly grinning and promised her that he knew all the lyrics. It’s safe to assume that he’s just finding a comfortable place for himself amidst everything.
There’s always been a veiled anger in Low’s music. The songs are dotted with softly harmonized fragments of violent imagery tucked away so that you hardly notice them. With the newer material, that undercurrent of emotion bristles through in Sparhawk’s angular, yet lazy guitar lines. The emotion articulates itself as the occasional reverb drenched note piercing the calm of the songs. Sparhawk seemed happier playing the newer material. It’s quite possible that the smoldering fire of the new album better suits who he is now.
The evolution of their sound over the years brings a great promise for the future of their career. With the show tonight, it was clear how the strength of the band grown, even if they’re in a moment of finding their exact pace. No matter what occurs next, there’s a sense of great anticipation for what they’re going to do next and it will most likely be a success.
Previously published at Loose Record