In reference to the tendency of oblivious and/or inconsiderate people to hear themselves talk over a live artist, I’ve long said “Hell, people will talk during a Low show.” Fortunately, last Thursday night I found this to be mostly hyperbole. But more on that later.
The performance was billed as “An Evening with Low,” with the band playing two sets. The group had clearly done their soundcheck earlier in the night, because at 9 they walked onto the stage and immediately kicked into “Gentle,” the relatively docile opening track of their new record Ones and Sixes. Echoing the track order, “No Comprende,” the album’s lead single, was next. After that, bandleader Alan Sparhawk, with a mop of tousled, greying hair, took a moment to thank the crowd for coming out.
Next, they went back to 2005’s The Great Destroyer for a stirring rendition of fan favorite “Monkey.” For the most part, the band stayed within the confines of the past decade for this set, reaching from 2007’s Drums and Guns, 2011’s C’mon, and 2013’s The Invisible Way. They did, however, go all the way back to 1994’s I Could Live in Hope — the band’s debut, and by all means, a slowcore classic — to perform “Words” for us. When I heard the opening chords of the track halfway through the set, you better believe I let out a huge “whoo!” — as did several others in the audience. Next to “”Sunflower,” my favorite Low song (and to which to my disappointment they did not play), “Words” is easily their most well-acclaimed track. I do have the tendency to look up bands’ set lists before seeing them live, and given the infrequency with which the track showed up on their current tour, I was very nervous about the possibility they wouldn’t play it. As such, “Words” became the clear highlight of the set, if not the entire show.
In my initial anecdote, the implication was that a Low show would mostly be on the quiet side. I couldn’t have been more wrong here. Of course I’m familiar with the band’s discography and their occasional tendency to emerge into loud post-rock crescendos, but I didn’t expect “On My Own” to be one of the heaviest things I’ve ever heard at the Earl — and I’ve seen a lot of doom metal here. The latter half of the track in particular took on a whole new weight with the stage lights gradually cloaking the band in black and Sparhawk chanting “Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday…” over squalling feedback. They ended the first set with an absolutely gorgeous rendition of “Especially Me,” the brooding centerpiece from C’mon.
20 minutes later (Sparhawk joked that “this break is more for you guys than it is for us”), the band returned with “Pissing” from The Great Destroyer. This was a particularly electrifying way to kick off their second set, as the track — similarly to “On My Own” — became a whole lot heavier live. As in the first set, the material here was mostly recent, including several more tracks from Ones and Sixes, among them my personal favorite, the somewhat upbeat “What Part of Me.” As if aware of that fact, Sparhawk joked before the song, “Can we get some brighter lights here? Though not too much.” He advised, “Let’s not forget what’s going on here,” bringing the audience to laughter.
Aside from a few spare moments, the band kept the talking to a minimum, echoing the minimal and subdued nature of their songs, which somehow became even more quiet on stage. And to my pleasant surprise, the audience were respectful, aside from one particularly drunk person in the front, that is. (Seriously, you’re trying to introduce your two friends to each other while the band is playing? Who are you?)
Finally, Low brought the evening to a close with the penultimate track from Ones and Sixes, the appropriately titled “Landslide.” The longer the song went on, the more I felt like I was being swallowed into the earth. If I had to pick out something that really struck me during the performance, it would be the diametrically opposed, and both fittingly named, bookends to the evening — the stunning, but unassuming “Gentle,” and the crushing “Landslide.”
Over the past year or so, Low have quickly become one of my favorite bands, and so I went into this evening fully knowing that I could very well leave disappointed, as I have many times in the past with bands I’m particularly excited about. Fortunately, this was not the case. Overall, while I wish they would have touched on their ’90s material more, I could have hardly asked for a better first show from them — and in a place like the Earl, no less! Considering the time that Low have been around, and the following they’ve amassed in those years, it’s a special kind of treat they played such an intimate venue.