Magical. Low were pure magic at Norwich Arts Centre for their Christmas Performance. As Will in the bar said: “It’s not Christmas until Low have played”.
Initially they were to have been joined by Harkin but illness meant this was not possible though we did have a support slot from Erik Koskinen (who also played a full first set with Low, on lap steel) in another sold out gig at NAC for the first date on Low’s UK tour. I liked Erik’s country blues storytelling style, accompanied by just his guitar. He had a good line in between song chat too asking for recommendations for English food and gifts to take home (“Mustard!” was shouted, to which he replied he had tried Colman’s Mustard earlier in the day and liked it) … I also loved the fact he referenced probably the best book store in the city that they all visited earlier in the day, The Book Hive.
The auditorium was full well before Low came onstage and there was a strong sense of anticipation and excitement in the air. I felt in the minority being one of those about to experience Low live for the first time but I quickly realised how special they are and why they are held in such high regard. It also explained why there were so many local musicians and artists assembled for this gig. The playing is often understated making the louder moments all the more powerful for that. For an hour or so they played a selection of Christmas songs, something that isn’t exactly one of my favourite genres but that all changes with the way Low do them. They bring a darkness and melancholic beauty to the songs, some of which are achingly intense but always beautiful.
At one point Alan Sparhawk introduced a song as “Shaky” … for a brief, horrified moment I thought it was going to be that Shakin’ Stevens Christmas song – “Shaky” obviously does not have the same connotations in Minnesota as it does over here – but it turned out to be John and Yoko’s Happy Xmas (War is Over) which was an absolutely sublime and joyous thing with a large section of the audience singing along. The set also included Blue Christmas and Silent Night from their collection and their famous version of Drummer Boy, plus new song Some Hearts (At Christmas Time). They achieved the near-impossible in making me think of Christmas with fondness tonight.
After Santa’s Coming Over, Alan explained about the video and the story behind the headshots of the childen in it. Checking it out today it makes the song seem even more intense and unsettling.
Ever-humble they seemed a tad awkward – endearingly so – and unsure of how to handle the end of set/encore thing and said they’d “… be backin a minute and a half, … if you want us to?”, which of course everyone did. The encore turned out to be a one hour Low set from the trio. This was a fantastic showcase for what Low are all about, highly effective and (for the most part) light percussion, gorgeous vocals and harmonies plus perfect bass and keys. The overall sound was just sumptuous but Wow can they rock out too! Alan’s guitar sound is incredible and so powerful. I’m a big fan of space in music, and noise too and this is something Low do to great effect. Letting the songs breathe, everything is crystal clear but when they let rip it makes all the more impression. There were hints of The Besnard Lakes (another great NAC gig) in the louder moments, and some Radiohead in the softer ones but they are always, gloriously and magically, uniquely Low. They left the stage to huge cheers and responded with a thumbs up and the promise that “2017 will be awesome!” After 2016 I think we all deserve that.
This was a truly beautiful gig in a run of exceptionally good ones (people are still talking about Savages last week) and they enchanted me throughout the near two hours of exquisite magic.
Big thanks as always to all at NAC.
all rights reserved (c) shashamane 2016