Review – Low at the Rio Theatre, Vancouver, Sept 15 2011
– review by Raoul Fernandes/photos by Ashley Tanasiychuk
Late into the night, Alan Sparhawk, front man and guitarist of Low, expressed worry about the comfortable seats of the Rio Theatre possibly having too sedating of an effect on the audience. It was a reasonable concern: the Minnesota band is well known for glacially slow and minimal music that requires a more than half-awake attention.
Happily, there was little worry of anyone nodding off. The band, donned all in black, maintained a captivating energy that never waned in intensity. They set the mood right away with a new song where the phrase “I’m nothing but heart” is sung over and over again as the music swells up around them. To anyone seeing them for the first time, this was a great introduction to a band who have always written songs from a deeply heartfelt place and whose spare and haunting style reveals a raw honesty rarely found in indie music these days.
Most of the magic of Low is in the beautiful harmonies between Sparhawk and his longtime partner, Mimi Parker. While Sparhawk’s powerful voice often comes through edged with struggle and ache, Parker meets it with a floating angelic strength. In a few songs she got to take lead vocal duties, such as in the spellbinding “Especially Me”, which see sang while pounding her bass drum, the heartbeat that pulses through most of their songs.
Low’s set-list was heavy on songs from their stellar new album C’mon, with a scattering of songs from earlier albums. “Monkey” (recently covered by Robert Plant, of all people) was a crowd-pleaser that brought forward the darker side of the band with the snarling lyric “tonight, the monkey dies” over a buzzy melody by keyboardist Eric Pollard, who also contributed some fine background harmony. Bassist Steve Garrington, despite having very minor (but essential) parts to play, was always deeply immersed in the music, keeping perfect time.
Called enthusiastically back for their encore, the band expressed genuine happiness with the “glowing” audience, and seemed happy to be back in this Vancouver after so long. They dedicated their rocking ‘nuck-friendly song “Canada” to the theatre’s sound man. It was much deserved; of all the times I’ve seen them, this was definitely the best sound I had heard so far. Vocals were clear and and upfront, and the bass, deep and rich. They closed with the beautiful “When I Go Deaf” that erupted with a rich earthy distortion that at once seems destructive and uplifting at the same time.
New Zealand’s Bachelorette, the opener, initially won me over with her skillful assembled vocal loops and bedroom-y electro-tinged pop, but after a few similar sounding songs, the energy fizzled. While she did share some friendly banter with the crowd, her performance itself lacked in any real engagement; it was like peering into a room where someone was very skillfully knitting a sweater. The audience clapped politely but I’m sure many were more entranced by the neat music visualization on the screen above her than by the music itself.
More Low Vancouver concert photos: