Live review: Low @ the Larimer LoungeBy Billy Thieme and Michael McGrath | December 20th, 2010 | 2 comments
No two vocalists weave together as symphonic a harmony as husband and wife team Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low. The sound is sparse, expansive and encompassing, all the while maintaining a luxuriant feel of velour draped over a shirt made of needles (if such a thing were to exist). And the trio, now touring now as a quartet, does it with next to nothing.
They put together a truly moving set on Saturday night at the Larimer Lounge in front of a room packed tightly with old school hipsters, newbie indie fans and many who looked like they’d fit more appropriately in the audience of a philharmonic than a noisy, minimalist trio such as this. It was the last stop on the band’s current “Christmas Tour” and so included a mix of some original Christmas-tinged tunes and traditional carols filtered through the band’s brilliantly minimal, sweepingly cathartic aesthetic.
After some initial excitement as the group took the stage, the audience was largely silent, save for applause between tunes and the occasional “shushing” directed toward people talking at the bar. Low fans are an interesting phenomena; they mostly swayed slowly, eyes closed and humming as the band played. The air was meditative enough at times that the lounge almost entered a state of hypnagogia, pulling all of its inhabitants along.
The set started with “Monkey” and then “Silver Rider,” both of which were recently covered by Robert Plant on his band Band Of Joy’s recent record (the Plant version has also been nominated for a Grammy), almost as if the band wanted to get them out of the way. The songs’ intrinsic, shimmering release did not suffer.
After such an explosively soft introduction, they bled into a set of spirituals weighed down only by the heavy chords seething through the Velvet Underground-like distortion from Sparhawk’s guitar. All of them were held aloft by the beautiful, clear vocals that he and Parker laced over the room. Half way through the set, opening soloist Charlie Parr joined the band on slide guitar for a mini set that segued into a strand of Christmas tunes, which only emphasized Low’s plodding brilliance.
After “Blue Christmas,” a slowed-down, almost frozen version of the classic number that became more a soulful lament with Parker’s rich singing, they played beautifully heavy and slow versions of “If You Were Born Today (Song for Baby Jesus),” “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Santa’s Coming Over” before they cleared the stage and returned for a two-song encore.
The set seemed to leave the crowd, myself included, with a strong, strange holiday flavor in our mouths — one that made the season feel just that much more embracing, maybe even solemn, as we left and sauntered into the cold.