Low / His Name Is Alive La Sala Rossa, Montreal QC - February 1, 2006

Knowing what we know, it's nearly impossible to appreciate a Low show on its own merits. These dates made up for 2005's aborted tour, called off when singer/guitarist Alan Sparhawk was hospitalised after a nervous breakdown. That was only one event in a tumultuous two years that included another mental collapse, the departure of founding members, a new record label and a drastic shift in sound that saw the band take great leaps forward in dynamics, volume and tempo. Having spent 12 years perfecting hushed tension, Low are now comfortable letting that tension explode with visceral force, bringing all the drama to the surface in explosions of guitar fury and full-throttled vocals. It's powerful and effective, even when it's telegraphed in the obvious moments of pop song structure during "California" or the earth-shaking climatic coda of "When I Go Deaf." In between songs, Sparhawk was affable and charming, although not terribly talkative; he didn't comment on the cancelled dates or even bother introducing the new bassist. Any controversy surrounding the new sonics on The Great Destroyer was easily put to rest. The new songs translated so well that an early rocker like fist-pumper "Canada" was clunky in comparison, a transitory footnote to their current evolution. Detroit veterans His Name is Alive opened the show by displaying their devolution from an interesting — if never fully engaging — studio project to a ramshackle live act. The female lead singer — who remained nameless, as she could be any one of the five or so singers Warren DeFever has employed over the years — seemed like she would be more at home in an '80s cover band, with her campy, bug-eyed expressions and Bangles fashion sense. Nonetheless, it was her firm, classically beautiful voice that anchored everything, as DeFever and his band mates routinely failed to lock in step. The gauzy gorgeousness of the band's earliest material (which opened and closed the set) was derailed by a wretched blues excursion, which wasn't helped by the saxophone and harmonium players. For a band that's been around for over 15 years, you would think DeFever would have figured out a live show by now. He had to look no further than the headliner for inspiration.