When a projection of a clock appears counting down from 10 minutes before Low appear, the sense of excitement is palpable. However, when the Duluth trio do take to the stage it’s clear this is not New Years Eve. This is not the Royal Rumble. This is no celebration.
Low open with songs from Ones and Sixes (recently glowingly reviewed on The Monitors), ‘Gentle’ and ‘No Comprende’. They feel dark, heavy and somewhat poignant considering current world events such as war, immigration and social care, something which singer Alan Sparhawk has openly talked about in recent times.
The sense of desperation and desolation are clear in ‘Kid In The Corner’ and ‘The Innocents’. The former creeps along with a resigned sadness as Sparkhawk sings “Can’t you go any faster? / We couldn’t cross the border” as it aches for an escape. ‘The Innocents’ dirges through.
The electronic beats from the record are recreated by Mimi Parker’s minimal drum kit to great effect as she sings about making a run for it and how we’re all done for, but sugar-coated by her angelic vocals which reverberate through the venue effortlessly. Classic Saturday night entertainment. Fun for all the family. Strangely there’s no place for ‘Congregation’ tonight, perhaps her finest performance on the recent record, but when you’ve a vast back catalogue like Low it’s easy to know why.
There’s a run of some favourites, with ‘Plastic Cup’ displaying fine humour while pontificating if the cups we use to piss in at the doctors will one day be excavated during some archaeological dig and mistaken for a cup for a King. I laughed anyway.
‘Monkey’ from The Great Destroyer sounds menacing as ever and ‘Point of Disgust’, with Mimi on lead, is deliciously fragile as she sings “Once I was lost / To the point of disgust / I had in my sight / Lack of vision / Lack of light / I held hard / I held fast / Mercy me / It’ll never last” in pin drop silence. The crowd are hooked on every word.
That is until a couple decide that where I’m standing offers a much better view and is also the perfect place to stand and chat. Unfortunately they do this just before ‘Spanish Translation’, my favourite song from the new record. Brilliant.
The two security guards in front of me coincidentally take this opportunity to have a chat too. I swear at one point they were laughing at the band, for sounding so depressing I’m sure; something I’d probably think too if I had only just heard them, without the 15 years or so of living with their music. I get annoyed but try to rise above it. It’s difficult with a band like Low though, who demand full attention and whose rewards are in the details.
Also, as proud as I feel to see Low perform at the Roundhouse, the venue is a real cavern and the sound did get lost as it bounced around. I think a venue such as Barbican, Shepherd’s Bush Empire or the Royal Festival Hall would be better suited, perhaps spread over a couple of evenings (although I’m aware logistics would be an issue).
Thankfully the songs did get more upbeat towards the end stretch, with ‘Lies’, the set’s centrepiece ‘Pissing’ (which builds and builds before an apocalyptic, distorted crescendo) and ‘What Part of Me’. It’s only then you realise the first words of the evening are said: Sparhawk with a quick thank you. “I got told I talk too much so I’m gonna keep quiet,” he says, before a member of the crowd shouts “thank you.” “No, thank you.”
The band leave the stage and provide a sweet moment while doing so – I’m at the side they exit and can see them debating which final songs to play for the crowd (although that doesn’t stop the now obligatory crowd shout-out requests). They return and grace us with the sweet ‘Sunflower’ and a heartbreaking rendition of ‘When I Go Deaf’ which, I’m not ashamed to say, brings a tear to my eye as Sparhawk sings “I’ll stay out all night / Looking at the sky / I’ll still have my sight / Yeah, I’ll still have my eyes,” before leaving the stage with a “peace be with you.”
Thank you, he says. No Alan, thank you!
Words and photos: Amadeep Chana