Low The Great Hall, Toronto, ON, March 16
Published Mar 17, 2013There's a pathological grandiosity to Low that permeates every level of their being. Progenitors of a delicately melancholy style that Arcade Fire propelled to maximalism in the early 2000s, the trio enjoy a palette ranging from whispered wails to storming guitar solos that sound like mice scurrying across the floor. Buoyed on the candlelit delights of tenth album The Invisible Way, the unassuming Minnesotans opened on a majestic note: "Plastic Cup," an ode to independence and identity in the age of mass-production. It swept an impressive hush across the packed audience, before drumming vocalist Mimi Parker took the mic for the country-tinged "Holy Ghost," a masterclass in elemental songwriting.
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.