Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Low @ Tramshed, Cardiff (2nd August 2016)

I like Low a lot but I must confess that, prior to seeing them for myself last night, I didn't expect them to be a particularly engaging live act. I bought a ticket to the Cardiff date of their current tour for two reasons:
  1. Well-known US indie bands don't visit Wales very often, so we must take what we can get.
  2. Graf from Spillers Records assured me that this was a gig not to be missed, and he's usually right about this sort of thing.
However, I can't say that I felt particularly pumped as Vicky and I made our way to Tramshed yesterday evening. Low's music is all about restraint and suspense and the spaces between the notes; they make beautiful, densely atmospheric albums (my personal favourite being 2011's C'mon), but it was my quiet suspicion that their songs - so captivating on record - would be a little dull in the flesh.

Photo courtesy of Alex Bell (@BrickitPro)

I was very wrong. Over two generous sets, Low produced as powerful and as gripping a performance as I've ever seen a three-person, drums/bass/guitar outfit muster. Here's a quick rundown of my personal highlights:
  • Lullaby was undoubtedly Set 1's standout moment (I don't have the song's parent album, I Could Live in Hope, but I've heard it on its own a few times because YouTube tends to autoplay it after Mogwai's Take Me Somewhere Nice). Built around a gentle - if slightly foreboding - guitar pattern, Lullaby is a superb example of the 'spaces between the notes' thing I mentioned earlier. It's a masterclass in controlled intensity, eventually building to a climactic crescendo but only after that gorgeously hypnotic riff has cycled around for something approaching an eternity. The song is somehow both soothing and unbearably tense at the same time, and it was twice as effective in a live space.

  • My one hope for this gig was to hear a few cuts from C'mon, and Low obliged: Nightingale and Witches popped up near the end of Set 1, but it was Especially Me in Set 2 that really reminded me of why I adore that album. It's the sound of shadows chasing each other around a darkened room, and it was every bit as stunning as it is on the CD.

  • One of the best things about seeing a band live is the way you often end up reassessing songs that didn't really grab you on the record. Before last night, I didn't really 'get' Landslide, the penultimate track from last year's Ones and Sixes album; I understood that it was supposed to be the sprawling, epic last-but-one track (much like C'mon's stunning Nothing But Heart), but it didn't really click with me until I saw it being performed. Suffice to say I definitely 'get' it now, and I especially 'get' its heavenly, spooled-out climax.

  • Pissing - a track I'd never heard before - was utterly, blindingly good. It was angry and crunchy and everything I thought Low basically weren't. Alan Sparhawk performing cunnilingus on his guitar (cunnistringus?) certainly wasn't on my list of things I expected to see at a Low gig, but it happened and it was awesome.

  • The cover of Al Green's Let's Stay Together was an unexpected treat. I can't decide whether the drunken loudmouth who spent the duration of the song yelling unintelligibly from the back of the room spoiled the song slightly or made it somehow even better - his yelps did remind me of that bit in I'm Your Man by Leonard Cohen where one of his bandmates cries out 'pleeEEease!'

  • Violent Past, the final track from Drums & Guns, featured near the end of the second setlist, and I loved singing along to it. A wonderful moment.

So yeah: if you get the chance to see Low live, take Graf's advice and don't miss it for the world. I couldn't have been more wrong in my initial presumptions.

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