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recommended boston area events

tuesday, december 4th

kelly hogan

@ johnny d's

thursday, december 6th

conor oberst

@ converse hall, tremont st.

thursday, december 6th

jason isbell &

the 400 unit

@ the sinclair

friday, december 7th

the weisstronauts 14th

annual holiday jubilee

with guests tsunami of sound

preacher jack, & the derangers

@ the midway cafe, jp

friday, december 7th


moving mountains


@ the sinclair

saturday, december 8th

patrick watson

@ the sinclair

saturday, december 8th

the faint perform

"danse macabre"


icky blossoms

@ the paradise

sunday, december 9th

band of horses

@ house of blues

sunday, december 9th



@ the paradise

wednesday, december 12th

concrete blonde

jim bianco

@ the sinclair

thursday, december 13th

annual boston christmas cavalcade

benefit for the homeless

featuring tons of artists

(see fb event for details)

@ johnny d's

thursday, december 13th

nada surf

eternal summers

@ the paradise

thursday, december 13th

mates of state

in the valley below

@ brighton music hall

friday, december 14th

forgetters (blake from

jawbreaker's band)

& more tba

@ democracy center, harvard square

sunday, december 30th

sufjan stevens

sheila saputo

@ the royale

monday, december 31st

my morning jacket

@ agganis arena

monday, december 31st

deer tick

two gallants

@ the sinclair

monday, january 7th


@ the paradise

tuesday, january 8th


@ great scott

saturday, january 19th

mission of burma

@ the sinclair

sunday, january 20th

camper van beethoven


@ the middle east down

sunday, january 20th


@ the orpheum

sunday, january 20th

ra ra riot

@ the paradise

sunday, january 27th


@ great scott

tuesday, january 29th

kathleen edwards

sera cahoone

@ brighton music hall

wednesday, february 13th

yo la tengo

@ the paradise

saturday, march 2nd

unknown mortal orchestra

@ brighton music hall

tuesday, march 12th

tame impala

@ house of blues

thursday, march 14th

jukebox the ghost

matt pond pa

lighthouse and the whaler

@ brighton music hall

tuesday, march 26th

yo la tengo

@ the paradise

wednesday & thursday

april 3rd & 4th

they might be giants

@ the paradise

visit tourfilter for more shows

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mp3s: Low - Live Drums And Guns

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
02. Sandinista
03. In Silence
04. Dragonfly
05. Belarus
06. Breaker
07. Point of Disgust
08. Lion / Lamb
09. Take Your Time
10. July
11. The Plan
12. Like A Forest
13. Pissing
14. Violent Past
15. Murderer

16. encore banter
17. Silver Rider
18. fire alarm banter
19. Last Snowstorm of the Year
20. Lust

A little Low linkage...
  • Their official site, Wikipedia entry, MySpace page, and the band's Sub Pop Records page.

  • Mp3s: NPR broadcasted Low's April 10th appearance at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, and you can download the entire set here.

  • There are also many live Low recordings available at the Live Music Archive. I highly recommend downloading their Black Sessions, recorded for Radio France on April 23rd, 2007.

  • Video: The cake-filled clip for "Breaker", the more recent video for "Belarus", a live in-studio performance of "Murderer", and more live clips on YouTube.

  • Minnesota Public Radio had Low in their studio to perform a few songs live: "Sandinista," "Murderer," "Violent Past," and "Breaker".

  • A few more of my photos from the show are available here.

  • Listen to all 'Nac-hosted tracks on the Hype Machine.

  • 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.


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    neil halstead
    live in cambridge, ma
    on november 14th, 2008
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