Review and Photography by John Bentley

Low have been on the go for 25 years now and amazingly they seem to get better and better, both in their live shows and albums (the 12th of which, ‘Double Negative’, is scheduled for release in September). Their current tour brings them back again to the Brudenell in Leeds, a venue for which they confess they have a great fondness.

Low at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

Nadine Khouri is a songwriter and musician based in London. Her obvious talent and innovative style makes her an ideal choice to support Low. Accompanying herself on guitar and effects pedals (that enable her to ‘on-the-spot’ build-up her own backing tracks), she delivers a spellbinding set, made truly enchanting by her soft whispered vocals. As well as some soft hypnotic playing, she delivers some blistering distorted guitar sounds that are later echoed in Low’s set. Particularly impressive is the intense ‘Broken Star’, one of the tracks on her album, ‘The Salted Air’. She tells us that she recently worked with John Parish (of P.J. Harvey collaboration fame) on his Nick Drake commemoration concert and, to prove the point, she finishes her set with Drake’s ‘Things Behind the Sun’.

Nadine Khouri at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

Tracks from Low’s forthcoming album are showcased on their website and in live performance tonight. The new material suggests that the album is very experimental, features extensive electronics and is heavy in terms of sound and subject matter. The previous album it most resembles is probably 2007’s ‘Drums and Guns’, but it seems more sound-collage-based. Low challenge their audience tonight with a set that comprises about one third new (and largely unheard) songs from the up-and-coming album. Fortunately the audience seem to be really up for anything that Low can throw at them. Given their musicianship, careful structuring of songs and delightful harmonies it seems fairly easy to appreciate Low’s unheard material first time around.

Low at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

It’s straight into these new songs with the lengthy ‘Quorum’. The studio version features a lot of electronics, but live Low stick to mostly guitar, bass and drums, supplemented by electronic beats. The live track features a lot of heavy, rumbling and distorted playing from Alan Sparhawk and we hear a lot of that twisted guitar sound tonight, with many old songs reinterpreted thus, such as ‘Whore’ from 2001’s ‘Things We Lost in the Fire’. There are also a fair number of songs from Low’s back catalogue, including several from the last album, ‘Ones and Sixes’ (2015). Hearing these songs played live (like ‘The Innocents’, ‘Lies’ and ‘What Part of Me’) reminds me of what a great album ‘Ones and Sixes’ is.

Low at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

The set features some heroic guitar playing by Alan, as on new song ‘Always Up’, with pounding drums being provided by Mimi Parker. As always the pair’s harmony singing is a real joy to hear throughout. Third member, bass player Steve Garrington, has now been with band for several years and is an integral part of their sound. Indeed there is so much bass from all the instruments on some of the songs that the whole stage is vibrating.

Low at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

In the middle of Low’s energetic set Alan Sparhawk pauses to get a breather and converse with the audience. It’s clear he’s feeling very emotional and there is a lot of rage in his playing. It appears it’s been set in motion by his anger and frustration with the current American political situation – a problem that many US musicians are experiencing at the moment. After playing a raging version of the epic ‘Pissing’ he unstraps the guitar and leans it against his amp, generating crackling feedback. Meanwhile he stands there almost shaking with mental and physical exhaustion, composing himself. This is a band with the greatest sincerity, wearing hearts on sleeves. Low finish with new song ‘Fly’ and leave with a wave and ‘thank you’ from Alan.

Low at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

Coming back on for the encore, Alan first has a further chat with the audience, centring on his sheer exasperation with Trump’s politics. Asking for audience requests, someone suggests that if they play ‘Witches’ everything will be ok. The suggestion isn’t taken up, but Low finish with three songs from their extensive back catalogue, including ‘Sea’ from their very first album and ‘Violent Past’ from ‘Drums and Guns’, a song which seems to fit the mood of the evening. It’s been a breathtaking and intense evening of Low music.

Low at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

Quorum; Always Trying to Work It Out; Holy Ghost; Clarence White; Gentle; Whore; Always Up; Dancing and Fire; The Innocents; No Comprende; Disarray; Pissing; Lies; Fly. Encore: Sea; Violent Past; What Part of Me.

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