Show Review (First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia)

    Three years ago, Low did an exceptionally un-rock n roll thing: vocalist Alan Sparhawk tripped over his own equipment on stage in the middle of a guitar solo. It was a small club show at some Podunk Midwestern college town mine to be exact so no light bulbs were flashing and no murmuring journalists, except me, were there to record the disaster as the singer got tangled in his own guitar chords. But while Sparhawk played it off admirably, convincing his compatriots to finish the set, the moment was a painfully awkward one for a band that for more than twelve years has thrived on tension.


    When Sparhawk tripped up again during Lows European tour last spring, this time all of us were there to see it. The singers nervous breakdown and the subsequent cancellation of his bands tour wasnt going to be as easy to play off to the press, the fans, and the family members who were watching. While Sparhawk certainly tried posting a letter on his Web site as arresting in its honesty as his music Lows future remained at the mercy of anti-depressants and equivocating publicists.


    As the trio took the stage Tuesday night to the applause of its pious, pew-sitting fans at the First Unitarian Church, things were looking remarkably better. Sparkhawk had leveled himself out, there was a new North American tour, a new bassist (Matt Livingston), and rampant rumors of new material. Of course, its hard to imagine Low not in its element surrounded by stained glass and hymnals. Despite Sparhawks recent love affair with distortion pedals, Low remains one of the most somber and elegant indie bands in town. If you can hear a pin drop during the verse, then Lows probably on stage.


    After fairly uninspired sets from Death Vessel, a male folksinger with the voice of a choirboy, and His Name is Alive, a Detroit sextet with the charisma of a mule, Low could not have hit too soon. But the members of Low didnt come to Philadelphia to play their greatest hits. Starting things off with a new tune a grand dirge drowned in moaning fuzz and calls to Sandanista! Low kept things fresh throughout. The new shit, seven songs in all, revealed a band completely aware of what got them on stage and what could knock them off. While Sparkhawks guitar spit and growled, he and his wife, drummer Mimi Parker, traded dead-eye verses confronting old friends, troubled minds, and an angry god.


    Of course, the favorites still rocked or rather subdued, pacified and awed. Great Destroyer stand-out Pissing congealed into a torrent of white noise backed by the haunting husband-and-wife refrain that lovers sleep alone, and the ancient Over the Ocean reminded the faithful of Lows former life as slowcores first and last great hope. Though I could have stood for a little more of those good old days, when the members played them, Low got the classics right and then some.


    Only ten shows into their first tour since Sparhawks collapse, there was something of a redemptive quality to the evening. In a recent interview, the singer noted that hes a lot more at peace with the fact that you can’t guarantee you’re going to be all right [at] any time. At the very least, in its originality, conviction and consistency, their performance proved that the members of Low were gonna be all right that night. Lets see what happens, Sparhawk said over his shoulder before strumming the evenings first chord. Exactly.


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