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The Walker: Low's set was one of the best Rock the Garden moments ever

The Walker: Low's set was one of the best Rock the Garden moments ever
Photo by Zoran Orlic

The Twin Cities music community needs a jolt every so often, and it came over the weekend via Low's performance at Rock the Garden. In a set defying their more traditional recent material, including this year's fascinating The Invisible Way, the 20-year vets leaned heavily on their slower, contemplative side. They performed an extended version of "Do You Know How to Waltz?" for their entire set and close by saying, "Drone, not drones." A significant outcry followed from attendees, but we thought it totally ruled.

While there were murmurs that the Walker must be upset that Low bucked convention and riled a portion of the RTG crowd, senior curator of performing arts Philip Bither was elated by what he experienced. "To my mind, Low's set was one of the most exciting moments in Rock the Garden history," he writes in a thoughtful essay on the Walker's site.

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For anyone who has experienced a Walker Art Center concert on another occasion, Bither frequently has the task and honor of explaining to concert-goers what they'll experience. His knowledge on all musical art forms is significant, and he has built the Walker's yearly music offerings into a crucial bridge between the Pitchfork crowd and the true avant-garde. What other local art gallery can facilitate shows featuring Cocorosie, Tim Hecker, and Brad Mehldau?

Reading this essay, titled Low: Rock the Garden's own Rite of Spring?, you can tell right away you're dealing with an astute and learned man when it comes to all sorts of experimental music, and his input plays a role into what makes Rock the Garden great. We would recommend putting on the 28-minute version of "Do You Know How to Waltz?" streaming at the Current, and curling up with this piece of writing right away.

Within, Bither equates the piece to the riotous response Paris audience members had after the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" in 1913. He writes, "Low chose to place themselves in the company of sonic renegades from rock's history: Hendrix, John Cale, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Sunn O)))), Patti Smith, Sonic Youth and dozens of others, including some of today's most popular rock artists -- Neil Young, Wilco, and Radiohead, to name a few.... The success of Rock the Garden has for some time brought commercial and broad-based expectations of accessibility to an event never intended to exclusively carry such, certainly not with all or even most of its chosen bands." [Italics are ours.]

Yes, as we said in less flowery terms earlier this week, Rock the Garden is not Jingle Ball. By Low frontman Alan Sparhawk's own admission, the decision came out of trying to do something beautiful after the rain. And they did.

"Witnessing Low's performance Saturday, I admit to my own initial confusion, which melted quickly into gratitude and then awe as the piece unfolded," Bither continues. "So much so that when the set ended I rushed backstage to give Steve, Mimi, and Alan my thanks and my well wishes before anyone else could reach them."

Read the rest of Bither's thoughts at the Walker's site here.


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