- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
Duluth, Minnesota’s Low are one of my favourite bands for a number of reasons. Like all great acts, they have that uncanny ability to be able to control time. Now, bear with me, I’m not claiming that Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker and Steve Garrington are Time Lords or anything, rather it’s their knack for being able to freeze time, momentarily hit the pause button and pull you into their world. Last time I saw them live they were harnessing the harmonics of the huge Halifax Minster, let’s see what they can do in the Brudenell Social Club.
Born in Beirut but based in London, guitarist and singer-songwriter Nadine Khouri opens proceedings with a set of meditative, stripped-back and somewhat magical songs. Songs from her latest album, The Salted Air, help create a smoky, soulful late-night feel that proves to be completely captivating.
Khouri chats about her inspirations between songs. She tells us how the rather beautiful ‘Catapult’ was inspired by a Laurie Anderson short film Heart of a Dog while the atmospheric ‘Broken Star’ came from a short story by Virginia Woolf. There’s love, death and letting go held within these poetic, quietly powerful songs.
She tells us about a rather infuriating journalist who once asked her why all her songs were about unrequited love and why she wasn’t singing about growing up in a war zone? In response to this she plays us a song about her experiences. A troubled yet beautiful lullaby, it’s impossible not to fall under a spell as Khouri sings, “teach me a melody/ so I can hum myself to sleep”. A fantastic performance from a true artist, Khouri leaves us with an effortlessly gorgeous rendition of Nick Drake’s ‘Things Behind the Sun’.
With a new album, Double Negative, set for release later in the year Low are on the road and ready to test out some new material. The band released a three-song taster online a few days ago; the songs revealing a shift into dark, sonically adventurous, Drums and Guns-like territory. My excitement levels were, admittedly, a little high.
The band open with ‘Quorum’, markedly different from the digital, woozy glitch of the recorded version; Sparhawk’s songwriting coming to the fore with a more band-based, stripped-back rendition. It’s rather beautiful and underlines that no matter how far Low push things sonically on record, the songs underneath will always provide the starting point for the band’s sound.
It’s comforting to think that the band has been going for 25 years and are still producing material as great as this. ‘Always Trying to Work it Out’ comes next and unless I’m mishearing things (it’s always a possibility) it contains the line, “I heard you moved back/ got a house in Leeds”. Things are boding well for the new album but there’s plenty from the bands back-catalogue to get stuck into as well.
The first real time-freezing moment arrives with ‘Holy Ghost’; a sparse, aching and ridiculously beautiful piece of music sung with quiet passion by drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker. Every Low song has a moment that just gets to you and as Parker sings “I don’t know much / but I can tell when somethings wrong” you could hear a pin drop.
Low, of course, aren’t just about those quiet, reflective moments. The band just know when to turn things up and when to hold back. Things don’t get much more turned up then tonight’s intense, passionate and brilliantly noisy ‘Pissing’. It’s always been a favourite but tonight it really bares its teeth, Sparhawk ‘doing a Hendrix’ as he holds his guitar to his mouth, feedback shaking the foundations. Seriously, I can hear the roof shaking.
While 2007’s Drums and Guns was partly inspired by the war in Iraq and George Bush, it’s hard to imagine the band finding today’s political climate any less worrying. It’s with an audible sense of weariness and annoyance that Sparhawk tells us about Trump visiting their hometown tomorrow. The band feed this dissatisfaction into a raw, Neil Young-esque rendition of ‘Violent Past’.
It’s nearly time for Low to unfreeze time and for everyone to go back to their regular lives so they wrap up the night with the calm, impossibly lovely ‘What Part of Me’ from Ones and Sixes. The ceiling, thankfully, appears to have remained intact. Sparhawk leaving us with a heartfelt, “peace be with you” as the band head backstage. 25 years of temporary but invaluable relief. Here’s to the next 25.