Low, Royal Festival Hall, 3rd March 2012


Low, Royal Festival Hall, London, 3rd April 2012

It comes along, rare as bloody steak, once in a very long while and most of the time doesn’t last, marking it as an even more precious jewel to savour with the senses. Low, from Utah, are that grain of gold dust on a beach of sand, a group so specifically themselves, so readily identifiable as to be a one-band self-made genre. That they were described, alongside great bands like Red House Painters and the long-forgotten Idaho as ‘slow-core’ on their emergence, even eyed suspiciously for married bandleaders’ Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s Mormon beliefs, means little when we reflect on the consistency and purity of sound and vision this band has pursued over the last two decades.

Tonight, advantage is taken of the luxurious Royal Festival Hall’s space and perfect acoustic composition as these interlopers from the far side of sorrow combine the most affecting, anthemic and alternately uplifting and pitch black of their repertoire with weightless, ageless projected imagery of everything from a circus ringmaster to an elk bathing in a stream to daredevil airborne stuntmen and unrecognizable blue sky views dotted with only the occasional visual anchor to let you know you are still earthbound.

Once the triptych of vast screens that serve as backdrop have marked their countdown down to zero there is a pregnant pause before darkness, illuminated only by glowing string lights arced above the stage, gives way to a powerful run through some of the highlights of their most recent and possibly best album ‘C’Mon’, augmented by an additional 4th member on keys/organ for the night; the repetitive, droning and delicate ‘Nothing But Heart’ rolls into starlit, dread-tinged single ‘Try To Sleep’ and the grinding grace of the humorously skin-crawling ‘Witches’. Fan favourite ‘Sunflower’, another tune drenched in blood but bursting with hope is received adoringly while the Velvet Underground simplicity and poise of ‘Hand So Small’ gets a rare outing too.

As we move from these more accessible, cleanly structured offerings into selections from ‘The Great Destroyer’ (including the ever stunning ‘Silver Rider’), the visuals lean toward the more obtuse (a shot of part of a trainer stepping on a guitar pedal seems to dominate for a very long time indeed) , as do the songs – particularly the shredding grind of ‘Pissing’ and the genuinely tragic Neil Young-isms of ‘In The Drugs’, new bassist Steve Garrington slotting into his role perfectly no matter which era of the band the songs are drawn from.

‘Murderer’ and ‘From Your Place On Sunset’, two wildly different extracts from their often overlooked ‘Drums & Guns’ record make a wonderful, spare and spectral close to the main set. It’s like having watched skeletons dance perfectly and with meaning for ninety minutes.

‘Dinosaur Act’s pounding, driving gothica and ‘$20’ close the encore perfectly – “My love is for free, my love” chants Sparhawk, Parker matching him note for note in a prime example of the most beauteous harmonies modern music has to offer. These songs are all slow, their performance considered. When they hit they hit with the weight of a falling piano and when they scare they keep you shivering, crawling images projected on the inside of your eyelids or underneath your bed. When they are tender they hold you more closely than you imagine music could, whispering to you, and when they are sparse they are more empty and void of hope than you can stand. Low are among the best bands to come out of America in the last twenty years and tonight they give a performance that should stand tall as a huge part of their legacy. A fine, dark jewel indeed.