Live Review: Low at the Bluebird

Low Wednesday, July 16, 2008 Bluebird Theater Better than: The nap I needed to take earlier in the day.

Halfway through Low’s set Wednesday night, she turned to me said that they sound “angelic.” I laugh at this because what does that even mean? The word I kept thinking of was “institution.” Having been around for fifteen years and eight albums, Low has established itself as something of a given in indie rock circles. People know what they’re going to get from the band: Slow tempos, haunting vocals and melodies that can’t be recreated. Lately, though, the band has tended to lean more towards its rockier side. Guitar parts that were one spare and echoey have been replaced by slabs of distortion cutting through the languid pace of the songs.

As always, Low, at it’s core, has been about the vocal interplay between guitarist Alan Sparhawk and his wife, Mimi Parker. In concert, the band has always succeeded or failed on that equation, and tonight was no different. At their best, as on “Murderer” and “Medicine Magazines,” the couple’s vocals floated above everything else and filled the entire room. However, when the band switched to its louder numbers -- an odd patchwork that included the riff from Neil Young’s “Ohio,” which the group has covered in the past, and some songs from its latest effort, Drums And Guns -- something seemed to be missing.

More times than not, though, the band got nailed it, especially during the 1-2-3 punch of “Shame,” “Sunflower” and “Canada.” Interesting, at least to me, was the crowd’s response, which would’ve been better suited to some metal band. But that is the kind of response that Low, at it’s best, can inspire. In a move that seem to fit perfectly with the night, the outfit closed its set with “When I Go Deaf,” an eerie ballad that showcased the band’s humor and humanity.

In the end maybe Low is like that great friend who you can lay with in silence for hours and feel like you have had the greatest conversation ever. Perhaps the word she was looking for was “transcendent.”

-- Jeremy Brashaw

Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: While I like Low (and probably always will), and new bassist Steve Garrington filled in fine, I miss former longtime four-stringer Zak Sally’s spare, austere bass lines, fleshing out the band. Random Detail: Attribute Low’s harder sound to Sparhawk’s two side projects, Black Eyed Snakes and Retribution Gospel Choir. Both attack with the lean, crunch that Low has adapted lately. Both are worth checking out. By the Way: To the guy who yelled “Freebird” throughout the show -- you’re an idiot.

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