In defense of Low's “Waltz?”

Low's Alan Sparhawk during a polarizing set at Rock the Garden on June 15
Anna Gulbrandsen

Duluth experimental rockers Low gave one of the most polarizing performances ever to hit Rock the Garden this month. You see, their entire set consisted of a 28-minute version of their 1996 song "Do You Know How to Waltz?" The dirge-y, slow-building track stretched to nearly twice the length found on The Curtain Hits the Cast, and it confused the heck out of photographers in the pit waiting for the "first three songs" to be completed.

For many attendees, what they heard was the equivalent of someone hocking a loogie in their Lemongrass Limeade. The consternation that followed on social media was reminiscent of last year's Atlas Sound show at the Cedar when someone in the crowd requested "My Sharona" and Bradford Cox played a freeform freakout version of it for 40 minutes. One person even started an @FU_Low Twitter account. Not everyone hated it, though. And here's why it's right to love Low for what they did.

"Do You Know How to Waltz?" is actually a beautiful song.

Listen to it again now that your Vans aren't filled with water. This is part of the aesthetic Low (and Alan Sparhawk's Retribution Gospel Choir) have toyed with for their entire career, and if it came as a shock, then the fault lies more with the listener than the band.

Low was not the headlining band for Rock the Garden 2013. Not even close.

Had they played this song for the entirety of an evening-closing set, I would've been pissed too. But given that a band that has been around longer than either Metric or Silversun Pickups was shuffled to the second slot of the day, they should be allowed more freedom to adjust how to present themselves.

Rock the Garden is a Walker Art Center event, not Jingle Ball.

Low not playing "Plastic Cup" is nowhere close to equivalent to Katy Perry skipping "Teenage Dream." Get over it. The Walker has a long tradition of supporting experimental performance that sits outside the mainstream, and Low's choice to densely explore one track was a fitting addition to the day. If anything, this will be a Low appearance that will be talked about for the rest of our lives. Plus, "Drone, not drones," was a completely badass way to address the crowd. Alan Sparhawk and his band looked fearless and punk as fuck up there.

Not every effective piece of art is easy to pigeonhole.

Admittedly, it was initially confusing to hear the long, billowing intro that stretched easily five minutes before a noticeable change. But as the sun started to peek its way out from behind the clouds, "Do You Know How to Waltz?" began to build into something epic.

In an era when we're used to getting exactly what we want with a swipe of a finger on our smart phones, it's refreshing to have a surprise, a plot twist, a moment of not knowing what will come next. Although the few lyrics of the song include the line "One more reason to forget," I guarantee no one at Rock the Garden will be able to erase the memory of what they experienced while Low played. A shame for those who just wanted something less captivating. The crowd agreed that Metric frontwoman Emily Haines was "not synthetica" later on, but we should not be passive, music-consuming drones either.

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