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Low With EMA, At The Lodge Room, Friday March 15th 2019

Low

 

It’s difficult to imagine that the band Low has been releasing music for 25 years, but steadily, over the course of a quarter of a century, the Duluth-based band has created 12 albums, with the last one in date, ‘Double Negative’, released last year via Sub Pop. My previous experience with the trio was quite limited, but I got the chance to see them perform their second sold-out show on Friday night. The Lodge Room was the perfect place was perfect for them and their so-called slowcore music which jumped from a quasi-religious austerity to a formidable fuzz. The group, still composed of founding members Alan Sparhawk on guitar and vocals, his wife Mimi Parker on drums and vocals with the addition of Steve Garrington on bass, played statics-filled sonic textures habited by ethereal harmonies, reaching a rare purity especially due to Parker’s amazingly delicate voice. The tone was consistently slow, often grave with subtle and ambitious effects that elevated their songs to a genre of its own, searching for dim light, wandering around a pale flame, working on a groove which grew each time with more fuzz and light.

EMA (Erika M. Anderson) opened the night was a heterogeneous set of spoken words, guitar married with electronics and industrial mayhem over her fierce vocals. She had this rock ‘n’ roll attitude behind abrasive electronics and noise experimentation, playing songs from her last album ‘Exile in the Outer Ring’, which got rave reviews, but explaining she could not possibly play her song ‘Aryan Nation’, because of the recent mass shooting in New Zealand… It was the most obvious moment of the night with a socio-political context, whereas rage and anger were constantly surfacing.

For almost 2 hours, Low played a blend of new and old songs, including plenty of their preceding work but focusing on the soundscape expansion of their new ‘Double Negative’. Almost each one of their atmospheric compositions fleshed up at one point with pedals and distortion, while keeping a very minimalist approach, sometimes sounding like a melancholic metal rock song bare to the essential.

Low brings you on a trip and the rewards are surprising. If they are not necessarily looking for easy hooks, ‘Laser Beam’ had surely one with its hymn-like melody and crystalline serenity. You could almost have sung along during ‘What Part of Me’ and its boy-girl harmonies of folk song appeal. It was almost an anomaly in this set, as most of the songs of the new album were wrapped around fuzz, distortion, and reverb, and when I thought they wouldn’t reproduce them as intensively as they sound on the album, this high-power vortex came from Sparhawk’s guitar and pedals, an all-white-noise thick blizzard spreading like a fire for 10 or 15 minutes. There were several of these intense noise explorations, floor-trembling guitar attacks, jet-flying through a black hole, vacuuming the rest of the music and the room, they were simply bold, and contrasting with audacity with their emotive slowcore. This wall of noise, echoing the wall of light flashing on the back of the stage, seemed to be the testimony of their fearlessness, deconstructing their pure melodies, which were always just a fuzz away from a violent tempest.

Sparhawk and Parker’s voices were echoing like lost souls inside a cathedral during the pulsating ‘Dancing and Blood’, and the trio was slowly building one atmospheric track after another, sometimes sounding like the logical connection between Radiohead and Mogwai, before recovering from all this high-fry static with a catchy hymnal melody like ‘Always Trying to Work It Out’ or ‘Spanish Translation’.

All set-long, the stage moves were kept to a minimum, despite Sparhawk bending in half on his guitar a few times, before ending with one of their eerier new songs, ‘Fly’ and the pulsing hammer-like ‘Disarray’ producing an industrial noise in cruel competition with their vocal harmonies.

The show was an expression of visceral and ethereal merging in fuzzy statics, a contrast between sparse beauty and noise disturbance brought together with the same majestic ability. I didn’t listen too much to the lyrics, but the new album has been described as ‘the sound of the world unraveling’. It was unleashing its tumult, tension, distortion, and disruption, and if plenty of darkness was trying to crash these rays of hope filtering through the songs, in the end, it was a chaotic answer to the present chaos.

setlist
Quorum
Always Up
No Comprende
Laser Beam
What Part of Me
Tempest
One more reason to Forget
Do You Know How to Waltz?
Lazy
Dancing and Blood
Always Trying to Work It Out
Poor Sucker
Shots & Ladders
Especially Me
Spanish Translation
Fly
Disarray

Encore:
Over the Ocean
Sunflower

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