Low at First Avenue, 4/16/11
April 16, 2011
First Avenue, Minneapolis
After seeing Retribution Gospel Choir perform a handful of times over the last couple of years, I was quite excited for Alan Sparhawk's return to the First Avenue stage with his distinguished "other" band Low on Saturday night. With his wife Mimi Parker at his side, along with bassist Steve Garrington and the surprise addition of Eric Pollard on keys (who both also serve double-duty in RGC), the Duluth band delivered a riveting, impassioned performance, playing their entire new record, C'mon, during the course of their 90-minute set, as well as some choice classic tracks that all went over well with the captivated, considerate crowd.
Sparhawk's gritty guitar work led the way on a sparse rendition of "Breaker" which opened the set strongly, leading into tender versions of "Try To Sleep" and "You See Everything," with Alan and Mimi's vocals blending sublimely on the touching new tracks. No matter how electrifying the RGC performances have been, it seems that Sparhawk is far more relaxed and comfortable with Parker on stage with him, and their songs take on an added weight and emotion based on that estimable artistic partnership.
Pollard's presence on keyboards (straight from the St. Louis County detention center, Sparhawk joked) gave Low's somber sound a welcome texture and depth. And while his subtle strains worked better on some songs than it did on others, his playing did help flesh out some of the starker numbers, giving them an added warmth. But Sparhawk and Parker were the clear stars of the show, as it should be, and their earnest vocals soared above Alan's determinedly restrained guitar work and Mimi's spare percussion.
I found it interesting that the band chose to play "Monkey" and "Silver Rider," songs that Robert Plant just covered on his Band Of Joy project, back to back. And while Plant's versions completely do the songs justice, hearing them performed by Low is unrivaled, and the band absolutely slayed these moody, intense numbers, with Sparhawk repeatedly losing himself in his fiery guitar solos.
Photos by Steve Cohen
Sparhawk introduced "Witches" by saying, "This is the first time my father has heard this song," before the band tore into a simmering, soulful version of the track that was one of the night's many highlights. Sparhawk's guitar sound on this number was wild, with his bristling tone sounding a bit fractured and fuzzy, but quite fabulous. And, other than a lovely rendition of "Sunflower," the rest of the main set was a steady flow of new songs, with an exquisite version of "Especially Me" and a gorgeous, absolutely inspiring rendition of "Nothing But Heart" standing out spectacularly. In fact, the last five songs of the set were the last five songs of C'mon in order, with the band deservedly feeling quite proud of their first new record in four years, and those majestic new songs subsequently took flight in a live setting.
Sparhawk, who kept the stage banter to a relative minimum during the performance, came out for the encore genuinely moved by the huge ovation the band received from the supportive local crowd. He asked for the lights to stay on, saying: "You all are very kind. Let me look at you all for a minute. You all look weird. I thought I was going to get more of an argument from you there." It was a hilarious moment of levity, that was immediately brought to a halt by Sparhawk introducing the next number by stating, "This is why we all wear black," before the band tore into a mercurial, moody version of "Murderer." It helped set the tone for the best encore I have seen this year, with fantastic versions of "Violent Past," "Canada," and stellar set closer "When I Go Deaf" ending the night gloriously. Low delivered a stunning, stirring set that left everyone in attendance entirely satisfied, with all of us quite pleased that Alan got his old band back together again.
Photos by Steve Cohen
Critic's Bias: I've been a big Low fan since I first heard The Curtain Hits The Cast.
The Crowd: Skewed a bit older than most First Avenue audiences, and while it wasn't a sell-out, the ovations the band continually received rivaled those of a full-house crowd.
Overheard In The Crowd: "These guys are from Minnesota, right?"
Random Notebook Dump: MN Original was filming the entire performance for a feature piece they are doing on the band, and producer extraordinaire Tom Herbers was manning the soundboard for the show.
Try To Sleep
You See Everything
Nothing But Heart
Something's Turning Over
Violent Past (Encore)
When I Go Deaf (Encore)
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