- by Tim Sentz Rating: Release Date: Label:
For the last 25 years or so, I’ve been pretty ignorant of the Duluth, MN band Low. Their brand of not-quite-shoegaze, affectionately dubbed “slowcore” by their fans, has never been my forte, but earlier this year the band released what will go down in the history books of 2018 as the possible album of the year with Double Negative.
The album’s coarse fractures are infinitely beautiful and chaotic on record, thanks to the production of B.J. Burton – most notable for his work on Bon Iver’s immaculate 22, A Million. The trio took to the gothic church on the University of Chicago’s campus on a chilly Friday night to render students and old school fans obliterated by one of their most masterful works to date.
The evening kicked off with opener IN/VIA, a solo synth project helmed by Nona Invie, also from Minnesota, with piano in tow. Invie’s brand of Grouper-esque lo-fi balladry was the perfect introduction for the evening; and while her compositions strung out for seven or eight minutes at a time, the electronic edges kept the pew-seated audience awake. IN/VIA is a newer project that I hadn’t heard before, but for those who enjoy the sparse but emotional attacks of Liz Harris, needn’t look much further. A strong showing for a rising act.
Rockefeller had a curfew in place, so Low took the stage rather early, at around 8:30 and immediately skipped the pleasantries of on-stage banter and went right into “Quorum” the opening track from their wonderful new album. They drew things back for a trio of older cuts – “No Comprende” and “Innocents” from their 2015 effort Ones and Sixes, and “Silver Rider” from The Great Destroyer, before obliterating everything in their path with Double Negative’s bitterest pill “Tempest,” a near five-minute assault on the senses.
Double Negative’s sound is essentially a Low record from previous years, run through a garbage disposal with a bag of metal cutlery. Burton’s production adds a sharpness that no record has had before. It’s unfortunate that the live translation doesn’t include this addition, but with only three members handling the duties of performing, it makes sense that the blistering production would be trimmed to make for a more appealing live show. Highlights from the record like “Dancing and Blood” and “Always Up” feel more at home without that boost, but noticeably absent from the evening as the devastating “Rome (Always In the Dark).” Centerpiece “Always Trying to Work it Out” was, and it was as grand live as it is on record.
The most explosive part of the evening was “Disarray” the closing track on Double Negative and it’s obvious why it was saved for the closing of the main set. “Disarray” is a frantic expose on modern life, the pinnacle of Low’s career to this point, and a gateway into the next 25 years of their lifespan. The encore was fan-favorite “Nothing But Heart,” but it’s worth noting that the older Low material has a more sleepy atmosphere surrounding it. It’s enjoyable, but the Double Negative material felt so much more dynamic in this setting. The gothic architecture of Rockefeller came alive with every note and made for a memorable experience. Low are riding high at this point, but still very much the same band they’ve always been – modest, humble, and focused. As we close out the year, it’s hard to find a rock band as aesthetically pleasing as them.