The Great Hall, Toronto, ON, March 16
There's a black humour in Low's music that's often missed — take "Witches" straight-faced centrepiece: "One day I got up and told my father there were witches in my room / He gave me a baseball bat and said, 'Here's what you do.'" Indeed, perhaps wary of coming off boring, the band possess a fourth member in the form of a projector beaming curious black and white footage onto the back wall. One moment ancient stone inscriptions are fading into pebbles that look like skulls; the next proto-airplanes glide gracefully over crackly grey skies, singer Alan Sparhawk yelling the stately refrain of "Clarence White" — "I know I shouldn't be afraid!" — like a pilot spiralling earthbound in denial of his inevitable fate.
Despite best efforts, however, it's true that Sparhawk strikes a slightly anguished pose. Although there's an incongruous air of coolness to that permanently windswept, cowboy-esque hair, he conducted the evening with the pained look of a man who's just been informed his least favourite cat is terminally ill, and it's not entirely unfair to say the 100-minute set occasionally drooped from enchanting to eyelid-sagging.
Still, the lack of onstage fun-having only makes it more impressive that Low are releasing excellent albums 20 years after formation. Theirs is the sound of a band intensely immersed in their craft: you feel that to add or take away would collapse the whole structure like a house of cards.
After the set's early phase leant heavily on C'mon and The Invisible Way, "Dinosaur Act" satisfied those among us that favour the band's mid-career output, before a vaguely self-conscious wig-out for "Canada" saw amps turned up to seven. "Tip the patient bartenders, 'cos they've had to put up with a lot of crap they've never listened to before," Sparhawk concluded, inadvertently making everyone extremely jealous of first-timers. Thankfully for the rest of us, there's no sign the Low wick is burning out.
To see Exclaim!'s Low photo gallery, courtesy of Fil ZuZarte, head here.
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