Photographs: SON Estrella Galicia
But live, the songs sound just like Low has always sounded. It would not make any sense otherwise.The band’s artistic and spiritual ambition, which in the early nineties consolidated their austere language against the fashion and trends of mass pop culture, has been doubled in their last two albums, following a “lighter” phase, if such an adjective could ever be used with the Duluth band. The anxiety caused by the “traumatic and depressing” political situation in their country; a broken, divided and bewildered nation, inspires a record that ranges from total darkness to a slight glimmer of hope. In a more and more deranged world, they are still living the radical pause and less is more in order to reveal the essential and spiritual: what makes us human.
It is no secret that Low are by far one of the most powerful forces that can be seen on a stage. They cannot offer a mediocre show. On their Madrid date, Alan Sparhawk (voice, guitar), Mimi Parker (voice, drums) and Steve Garrington (bass player since 2008), gave a lecture on intensity, rapport, personality and contrasts - ranging from minimalistic introspection to some minutes of sheer mind-blogging noise-, before a crowd who welcomed them with the silent warmth that the occasion called for.
Linking their songs with white noise and lost guitar notes, they played nine from their new work, but stripped from the studio production fog in singles Quorum and Dancing and Blood. Their earlier record, Ones and Sixes, in which they anticipated this formal radicality, was also present with five songs, including the delicious What part of me and the majestic The Innocents. Their most melodic and accessible side showed up in songs like Holy Ghost or Plastic Cup, but it was counteracted by the dark density of tunes such as Pissing from their mythical 2005 album The Great Destroyer or Do you Know how to Waltz, from their very early years.
Beyond the quality of their compositions distilled to their essence or the cathartic intensity of Sparhawk’s guitar playing style (with Neil Young always in the background, at the end of the show biting the strings Hendrix-style), the core of Low’s sound lies in the founding couple’s extraordinary vocal conjunction. In the last quarter of a century (or in Rock History, I dare say) no other couple has been so powerful in the vocal realm, so dangerously prone to vacuous sensationalism. From their self-demand as interpreters, Low again conquered an audience who, in total communion, saw themselves transported to a lost church in the Mid- West prairie snow. See you next time.
Low are still a glorious heresy in the often uniformed and pedestrian pop scene. Not a glimpse of expiration date. They will prevail as long as they want.