Fellow Minnesotan Charlie Parr opened the show and brought a classic blues and folk sensibility to his performance. It was a pretty minimalistic, stripped down set-up but if you paid attention to what Parr was doing on guitar, it was intricate, but never busy, melodies with leads mixed in with rhythm playing at once. Real blues players and folkies have pulled that stunt for decades, but getting to see it live and done this well was a rare treat.
For his part, Parr looked like he could have come from that area of the "Cumberland Gap," and his own material (like "Bethlehem" and "Cheap Wine") sounded as classic as any of his covers. Even so, hearing a Blind Blake song ("Rope Stretchin' Blues") was a pleasant surprise. His use of the Resonator gave each note a rustic glean that reverberated with an authenticity that a lot of latter day blues players try to achieve but rarely do.
This was the last day of Low's mini-tour, but you wouldn't know it with the high spirits in which Alan Sparhawk seemed to perform. The band opened with the chilling yet electrifying "Monkey," and it didn't even matter that the penetrating, otherworldly keyboard part heard in the original didn't appear to be part of the mix of sounds.
Low played the song with a controlled intensity you'd expect out of anyone playing that song. It seemed entirely appropriate that another song from the same album, the title track, "The Great Destroyer," followed with quiet and dignified energy as one of the few songs in rock to be so hushed and so powerful at the same time. Much of the rest of the set included a great mix of hits and rarities including a slightly stripped down version of the harrowing "Pissing," a delicate version of "Try to Sleep" for which Sparhawk brought out his Fender twelve-string, and a stirring version of "Silver Rider." The striking harmonies between Sparhawk and Mimi Parker were even more vivid live.
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Later in the set, Charlie Parr joined the band for a few songs including part of the Christmas song portion of the show, spanning eight songs from the act's excellent Christmas album. Parker's voice struck many a gorgeous moment during "Blue Christmas," and the version of "Little Drummer" boy was driven by a stream of distorted guitar.
For the final Christmas song, "Santa's Coming Over," it almost sounded like a mildly eerie song that might appear in a Tim Burton movie but ultimately proved to be an unexpectedly powerful and intense take on a song that could have been typical. But this was Low so there was nothing typical about it. Beforehand, though, Sparhawk said, "In case I didn't say it before, please do not disappoint me by having anything less than a an amazing Christmas." Hopefully nobody does disappoint the guy.
That would have been the end of the show but the quartet came back on and dedicated the encore to Captain Beefheart. Someone in the audience asked if they were going to cover a Beefheart song to which Sparhawk answered, "No, but we'll play a Napalm Death cover." Then he launched into the less than two seconds of "You Suffer" and asked if anyone recognized the song. One person did and Sparhawk acknowledged that and went into "Murderer." After three songs, a generous twenty one in total, Low left the stage.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Longtime fan of Low. Random Detail: Ran into Molly Zachary of Sibyl Vane. By the Way: One of the few times when Christmas music isn't completely annoying this time of year is hearing Low play it.