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Low's one-song set at Rock the Garden totally ruled

Alan Sparhawk: "Drone, not drones."
Alan Sparhawk: "Drone, not drones."
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

Duluth experimental rockers Low put on one of the most polarizing performances ever to hit Rock the Garden this year. You see, their entire set consisted of a 27-minute version of their 1996 song "Do You Know How to Waltz?" The dirge-y, slow-building track stretched to nearly twice its recorded length of 14 minutes 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 all over 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 like 40 minutes. One person even started an @FU_Low Twitter account to express their displeasure. Not everyone hated it, though. And here's why it was right to love Low for what they did.

See Also:
Metric at Rock the Garden, 6/15/13
Slideshow: Rock the Garden, the Music
Slideshow: Rock the Garden, People and Scenes


Here's a sampling of the anger that spilled out as Low dared to buck convention and challenge their listening audience with something less sweet than a cherry on a spoon.




And the folks who liked it?




Suppose that last one could be taken as positive or negative. But below, Gimme Noise can tell you why Low's performance was one of the best things to ever grace Rock the Garden.

 


"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.

The album version:

Here's the entire set, documented by 89.3 the Current:

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. The rain figured in too.

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.

Low's one-song set at Rock the Garden totally ruled
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

Not every effective piece of art is easy to pigeonhole.
Admittedly, I was initially confused by 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 can be 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 who was gathered there Saturday will be able to erase in their minds what they experienced while Low played. A shame for those who just wanted something less unique, less singular, and less captivating. The crowd agreed that Emily Haines was "not synthetica" later on, but should remember that we should not be passive, music-consuming drones either.


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