Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Low has meant so much to me over the years that I have a tough time saying anything even slightly negative about 'em. Never so quickly has a band entered my all-time top ten than after my first full listen through 1996's "The Curtain Hits The Cast", and I've eagerly awaited every album since. I've found many things to love about each of their releases, and was never-less-than deeply moved every single time I saw them live. There are just certain artists that you know instantly: As long as they're a band, I'm a fan.
So I was surprised to find myself, for the first time in 10 years, slightly disappointed by a live Low set in 2005, when I caught them at the Somerville Theatre with Pedro the Lion. I noted it at the time, but what I failed to mention was the disquieting stage presence of Alan Sparhawk, who occasionally twitched and jerked awkwardly during the set. I wondered at the time if something was wrong, and realized months later that it was likely due to the self-described difficult time he was going through, and which caused Low to cancel the rest of their 2005 tour dates. I'd never read such a candid message to fans from an artist I so respected. It made me admire him all the more, and wonder if, when, and how Low would return to the studio or stage.
Return they did, with tour dates in early 2006, and new member Matt Livingston replacing longtime bassist Zak Sally (who left to be a more-present dad, and to run his excellent La Mano 21 comics publishing imprint). A new Low album was bound to follow, and sure enough, word came that their second release for Sub Pop ,"Drums And Guns", would arrive in March this year.
For any band with the longevity and unique identity of Low, it's gotta be a struggle to strike that balance between consistency and sonic evolution. But they've walked that line so well over the years, stretching from the delicate tension of the early songs to incorporate more hooks, even straightforward catchiness at times, without giving up what makes them Low. Even the upped guitars of 2005's "The Great Destroyer" worked in doses, juxtaposed with the fragile beauty that remained. And no matter what bed of music they make, they're anchored by those voices, the married Mimi & Alan either switching off or blending together so perfectly... there's no male/female vocal pairing that sounds remotely like them.
But even though "The Great Destroyer" marked somewhat of a departure for Low, it was nothing compared to what "Drums And Guns" would do to tweak their formula. Gone were the guitar chords, replaced with loops and sonic samples. In some songs, even Mimi's sparse drumming took a backseat to programmed beats. For better or worse, much of the humanness was siphoned away, bringing the music to a whole new level of eerie sterility, leaving the vocals alone to carry the emotion, or lack of it. It was a daring experiment, and as much as I wanted it to work for me, it just didn't. And it saddens me to admit I haven't listened to it once since that first week.
Which, at last, brings me to the point of this here post. I didn't know what to expect from Low's live show this time around, and after hearing the new album I wondered if their studio experimentation would bleed onto the stage, with samplers and backing tracks either replacing parts or accenting the new songs. But when another show at the Somerville Theater was announced, I couldn't not be there. Because it's Low.
And it was f'in beautiful. Everything I didn't get out of the new songs on record, I got from the band that night. With the studio filter removed, it was just three people making music; a backing track appeared for a song or two, a harmonium (I think) on another. Otherwise, it was the Low I knew and loved. "Breaker" was a revelation, fired up with a guitar that rivaled the loudest parts of "The Great Destroyer". "Belarus" was chilling, "Murderer" mesmerizing. Not to mention the old stuff, which felt better than ever.
So to offset my disappointment with "Drums And Guns", I've pulled together a disc of live versions of the songs off the album, with most coming from my recording of that show, three others from around the 'net, and two missing that I don't believe they've yet played live (if I'm wrong about this, leave a comment, and better yet, let me know where they can be found). This moderately-mastered collection is shared below in Mp3 form, along with the entire Somerville set. Enjoy.
"Live Drums And Guns"
01. Pretty People (Colorado Springs 2006-10-28)
02. Belarus (Somerville 2007-04-07)
03. Breaker (Somerville 2007-04-07)
04. Dragonfly (Somerville 2007-04-07)
05. Sandinista (Somerville 2007-04-07)
06. Always Fade (missing)
07. Dust On The Window (missing)
08. Hatchet (Amsterdam 2007-05-07)
09. Your Poison (Philadelphia 2006-02-07)
10. Take Your Time (Somerville 2007-04-07)
11. In Silence (Somerville 2007-04-07)
12. Murderer (Somerville 2007-04-07)
13. Violent Past (Somerville 2007-04-07)
Bonus: Retribution Gospel Choir - "Hatchet"
(from the out-of-print 2005 RGC Summer Tour EP)
Live at the Somerville Theater
in Somerville, Massachusetts
on Saturday, April 7th, 2007
01. Cue the Strings
03. In Silence
07. Point of Disgust
08. Lion / Lamb
09. Take Your Time
11. The Plan
12. Like A Forest
14. Violent Past
16. encore banter
17. Silver Rider
18. fire alarm banter
19. Last Snowstorm of the Year
A little Low linkage...
the post's post-script... If anyone has an issue with these Mp3s being made available, just let me know (my contact info in the 'nac faq). Live sets recorded with a Sony ECM-719 mic and a Sony MZ-RH10 minidisc, converted to .wav and then edited to 192kbps Mp3s. Files are made available for a limited time, and are not reposted once removed.
live in cambridge, ma
on november 14th, 2008
previously: joy formidable - boston 2011
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