Photos: Simone della Fornace
So Low were in Cork this week (yesterday at Cyprus Avenue, following Dublin’s Button Factory the previous night). That’s something you can’t say every day.
First things first. The bond between this band and their audience really is a thing to behold. At the end of the gig, a guy at the front of the stage shook his hands over his head at Alan, a kind of “you killed it” gesture; Alan responded with a wink and clenched fist “we did it together” in reply. It was the kind of exchange you don’t often see between band and audience, of mutual respect you might say. Before their last song, Alan also thanked the crowd for “your support, your love”. The kind of thanks, anyway, that goes far beyond gratitude for buying a ticket. The whole thing was a genuinely communal experience.
Part of the atmosphere in the room might have been to do with the length of time since their first Cork gig – almost 12 years since their only (if I’m not mistaken) other appearance in the Real Capital. That was in Nancy Spain’s in the autumn of 2000, a higher stage, a larger space. That night, most of the crowd sat on the floor and I seem to remember there were nightlights around the room. Most of all, those intertwined vocals and a sense of wonder at how so few materials could be brought together to create something that magnificent. Intimate, transcendant, I remember.
I also saw them at Primavera in 2007 (to be precise, I saw the toes of Alan Sparhawk’s shoes now and again, from my less than ideal vantage point to the side of the stage). It was midnight, open air, with the Mediterranean lapping nearby and the heavy smell of Spanish grass hanging in the air. Another heady mixture, to go with the louder, more ominous atmospherics this time. A well established band at this stage, having switched to the major independent Sub Pop. In its own way, also a perfect gig.
Of course, there’s something about husband and wife bands – The Handsome Family, White Hills, Handsome Furs, Johnny & June, Wings (!). There’s a particular chemistry in this case that’s hard to characterise exactly. Mimi seems happy to be in the background, to let Alan take the lead, but there’s no doubt that her vocal (particularly) is the ace card in the Low deck. It’s what adds the stardust.
The fervour they inspire in people is surprising in a way, given the unassuming nature of much of their music. On the other hand, the sound is intense and emotional. Primal, aswell. I had occasion to exchange correspondence some years ago with Kramer, the man who produced the first two Low albums. He mentioned in passing how he came into contact with Low, through a demo in the post, which prompted him to invite the band to his studio in New York to record. “They had no idea what they had”, he said. It struck me as an unusual comment at the time, but I see it now as astute, as you’d expect from the great man. I think what he meant was there was no calculation in their arrangements. It just seemed obvious to them to play the songs that way. In the clichéd phrase, it flows out of them.
Speaking of flowing, their gig this week was the first time that I heard their music as blues. With buckets of soul. A primal hurt, expressed in slowly revolving, repeating patterns. Slow, spacious music. Deep and moving.
Low are some kind of glorious, freakish one-off.