Low

What a night! I was lucky enough to see one of Low’s few current UK gigs in a small intimate venue like The Glee Club. The band are touring their latest album, C’mon. Low have been around since 1993 and have gained a high critical reputation over the years, being championed by the late John Peel, amongst others. However, they have now deservedly come to the attention of a wider audience, especially following use of many of their songs on TV and after Robert Plant (a big fan) recorded two of their songs on his Band of Joy album, in 2010.

Lanterns on the Lake

The small venue is sold out, which benefits support band, Lanterns on the Lake, who get to play to a packed house. Support bands usually have to put-up with being put on while the audience drift in to see the main act. Lanterns are a six-piece indie band from the North East. They have a violinist and the guitar player bows his instrument like Jimmy Page! Chanteuse Hazel Wilde has a soft, breathy voice and the music has a dreamy quality and it builds up to some epic finishes, with the band having a good wig-out. They put on a good show, but seem a bit shy and spend a lot of time with their backs to the audience.

Lanterns on the Lake

Low are an unpretentious bunch. For one thing they actually set-up their own instruments on the stage rather than relying on a gang of roadies. This is made easier as they don’t have much equipment. A simple set of stand up-drums (no bass drum), small amps, guitars and a keyboard. However, the sound is big.

Low

Low are essentially husband and wife, Alan Sparhawk (guitar) and Mimi Parker (drums), tonight with their current bass player Steve Garrington and a keyboard player. Their music is generally put into the ‘slowcore’ category, although the band don’t like the term. Their most distinctive qualities are probably their vocal harmonies and the chillingly beautiful quality of their songs.

Low

Nirvana were famed for developing a soft-loud song structure, which they famously pinched from the Pixies. However, Low make more use of this technique than any other band I know. At times their soft vocal harmonies are virtually a cappella – and then suddenly there is a crash of distorted electric guitar that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The last time I did a review for Gig Junkies, I was moaning about background noise from the audience. No such problem tonight. You could hear a pin drop, and sound quality is superb. Alan Sparhawk has a rugged and craggy look and maybe people think he will come and sort them out if there is any noise. Whatever it is, there is great respect for the music in the room and everyone is listening intently.

Low

The show starts off with spine-tingling guitar distortion, which has everyone pinned to their (rather uncomfortable plastic) seats, and into a great new song ‘Nothing But Heart’, which repeats the title line and builds and builds to a crescendo, like so many of their songs do. Low work through a wide range of material from throughout their lengthy career, including a good selection from the new album. There are many old favourites, including ‘Silver Rider’, ’Everybody’s Song’, ‘Pissing’, ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Dinosaur Act’, taken from possibly their best albums, ‘Things We Lost in the Fire’ and ‘The Great Destroyer’. ‘Pissing’ is probably the highlight of the evening (sorry if that sounds a bit odd!). It is really one of those smouldering songs that starts quietly with beautiful harmonies, but is full of tension and builds to one of Sparhawk’s incendiary distorted guitar solos. Another highlight is ‘Murderer’, which is a pretty gripping and strange song from the ‘Drums and Guns’ album: “One more thing I’ll ask you Lord, you may need a murderer, someone to do your dirty work”. Hmm! They have some fascinating lyrics. The new songs sound good too, particularly ‘Especially Me’, but I haven’t got acquainted with the new album yet.

Low

It is amazing how four people on stage with such minimal equipment can produce such a range of intense sound that really makes your spine tingle. Many bands could learn from Low that a full-on racket is not the only way to gain attention. The show encore finishes, after a false start and a consequent jokey altercation between Alan and Mimi, with ‘Monkey’ (“Tonight you will be mine, tonight the monkey dies”), one of their best songs and one recorded by Robert Plant. A very special and memorable evening.

Photographs and Review by John Bentley

2 Responses to “Low + Lanterns on the Lake @ The Glee Club, Birmingham, UK – 2nd April 2012”

  1. hallav Says:

    I was sat two seats to your right when you took these and asked where I might find them at the end of the gig.

    Superb pictures that captured both bands without any disturbance to the event (unlike the chattering fuckwits behind us)

  2. john bentley Says:

    Thanks, Hallav!

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