I’ve had an ongoing disagreement with my mate Dan about Low. I’ve gone on record with my opinion that the Minnesota band’s best album is their most recent – The Great Destroyer from last year. He doesn’t agree, and doesn’t really like it. I think he felt some justification when ATP announced that Low would be playing Things We Lost in the Fire as part of this year’s Don’t Look Back series. After all, these are meant to be the shows where the band plays through their greatest works. I think we both compromised on the notion that it was their most definitive album. I can go with that, because it was the first proper Low LP that I bought (my introduction was the Christmas EP), so it does occupy a special place for me.
On a particularly sweltering London evening, Koko was surprisingly but mercifully cool. Low are just one of the most unassuming bands ever. No big entry. Just a walk on, a wave and straight into Sunflower. I actually hadn’t listened to Things We Lost… for ages, but lately deliberately not listening, so that the performance could come to me a bit fresher. I’m quite glad of that, because it did. I wasn’t pre-playing the exact notes or chords in my head before each song. I could just stand there and soak in the sheer beauty of it all.
Goosebump moments were a-plenty. The first major one was during the achingly gorgeous Laser Beam, but they continued throughout.. The harmonies were just perfect, and Mimi Parker's few lead vocal slots just leave the desire for her to sing more. And the album was over way too soon. Maybe one play thorough isn’t enough. It reminded me that it’s not just on The Great Destroyer that Low rock out, as they so thrillingly demonstrated on Whore and In Metal.
Low are also a very sparse, even frugal band. That’s not a complaint though. There are just three of them for a start (though last night they were augmented by a violinist and a guy on keyboards and laptop sounds). Mimi doesn’t even have a full drum kit. There’s no fancy stuff in their songs. Their playing is slow and deliberate, as if every moment is to be savoured. Alan Sparhawk only uses one guitar throughout the gig (that he only needs to re-tune once). There’s little in the way of speaking between songs (even less need when everyone knows what’s coming next). And even their lyrics are economical – they don’t encumber songs with too many words, and favour repetition. But when the songs are so beautiful you don’t mind. I could have listened to them singing 'Don’t Carry it All' (in the encore) over and over again all night. It was a shame it had to end.
As expected, there was an encore, where they did some b-sides, some more recent songs, and for a second encore, all the faithful fans who were shouting for Two Step got their wish. But the star of the show was definitely Things We Lost in the Fire. I may even have to re-evaluate my position on what Low’s greatest album is now. But I’m still sticking by my assertion on the quality of The Great Destroyer. Maybe all these amazing songs together just serve to prove that Low really are one of the greatest bands in the world today.
Buy Things We Lost in the Fire. You really need it.