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Somewhere in the remote regions of Duluth, Minnesota is a couple who have been creating life changing music for 13 years. That couple is Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker and they form the crux of Low. Unlike quite a few indie bands these days who seem to hail from Brooklyn, Low emerges from a place much more rural where constant exchange of ideas with other bands might be quite difficult. (Watching Low, You May Need a Murderer will show you more about the actual town sizes and give you a sense of the Minnesota countryside.)
It’s perhaps this very reason that Low has managed to inspire so many other songs while they themselves seem to remain pure in sound as well as completely genuine. The couple sings many of their songs as if they have an anguish to share with their very willing fans. After 4 years of staying away from these parts, the audience at Lincoln Hall was more than eager to listen. The band still contains Steve Garrington on bass and now an additional keyboard player but the main substantial element is still Sparhawk and Parker.
Low has very recently released their ninth studio album, C’mon. Don’t be fooled by the too whimsical sounding single, “Try to Sleep.” There is still plenty of torment to go around and relish in. Live, some of the best moments were from their new album including the very holy sounding “Nightingale” to the sorrowful “Nothing But Heart.” Mimi Parker’s voice shined especially well in “You See Everything” and “Especially Me” whereas the keenness of Sparhawk’s agony in the ironically titled “$20” was enough to make even the most hardened soul’s spine tingle as if threatening to shatter. “Majesty/Magic” was perhaps the best new demonstration of the band’s ability to start off on ceremonious to a building edge, which is what their best tracks throughout time have done. More than anything, the songs had their drastic moments and, if one might imagine them as individual people, you’d picture a gentleman who could brandish the kind of glare to leave you speechless for an eternity.
It would be negligent not to mention how much of their 90 minute long set was comprised of older songs. The band oddly started out with “Breaker” from 2007’s Drums and Guns and after playing a couple of new songs diverted all the way back to “Monkey” followed by an intense “Silver Rider” from 2005’s The Great Destroyer. Best of all was the encore, which included all old songs: “Murderer,” “Canada,” “Violent Past,” and “When I Go Deaf.” It’s interesting how Sparhawk chooses to re-work old songs, sometimes revving them up so that it takes a couple of seconds longer to recognize them but always managing to include their sacred essence.
It seems off putting to mention banter at a Low show but it bears acknowledging how Sparhawk was greatly appreciative of the quiet crowd gazing in awe at him and his little attempts at humor. At one point between songs, an audience member revealed, “I really want to say something but my girlfriend doesn’t want me to.” Sparhawk quipped, “Listen to your girlfriend.” He also oddly departed telling his fans that he hoped they discovered some wonderful novel life changing food. Basically, these comments seem to be at odds with the brooding nature of some of the songs but they are revealing in the way they show his humanity outside of his lyrics and fierce guitar playing, all perfectly timed and controlled. At times, Sparhawk may be a Great Destroyer but truly still he’s Nothing But Heart.
If you missed this band play in Chicago last night, catch them at their free show this summer as part of the Downtown Sound series in Millennium Park at Jay Pritzker Pavilion on June 27th, 2011.