Critics may contend that Low frontman Alan Sparhawk was a mid-90’s iconoclast, in a way, having eschewed the predominant contemporary genres of Duluth, Minnesota in favor of the music that Low became known for: a subdued and often dark brand of moody rock and roll. On the other hand, the 90’s outside of Duluth were full of that too, from Tanya Donelly’s somber psychedelic strokes on Belly’s excellent debut record Star to the era’s lo-fi poster kids My Bloody Valentine.
But, forget the 90’s for a minute, because the era isn’t necessarily always relevant in the context of this band. The most distinctive element of Low’s music and stagecraft lie in the signature, often haunting harmonies between Sparhawk and wife Mimi Parker, as she lightly dusts her snares with her trademark percussion brushes. Together with bassist and keyboard player Steve Garrington, Low created a compelling mood at Johnny Brenda’s last night, approved of in tacit head-nods by a legion of devoted fans at the sold out show, the same fans that forgave them for rescheduling a Philly appearance last Fall interrupted by a papal visit, and who turned out in numbers on a rainy Winter night regardless.
Opener Mary Lattimore had a hand in the ambience too. The Philly favorite
and Brenda’s staple established the tone early with a set of live harp music set to a backdrop montage by local filmmaker Isaac Williams, aptly enchanting a full room of rapt fans.
Sparhawk and company offered up a set showing off their latest release
2015’s Ones and Sixes, but disappointing no one with a balanced mix of older cuts reaching back to their 1994 debut I Could Live In Hope.
They returned to the stage just before midnight last night for a two-song encore. Following Parker’s cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” showcasing standalone vocals, Sparhawk wondered aloud what to play next. “How should we land this thing?” was an inquiry asked of his band, but answered with a suggestion from a fan: “Kanada!” Sparhawk wasted no time, in response, strumming the opening chords on his wood-top Danelectro to the single from 2002’s Trust.
That’s the thing about this band. Fans weren’t there last night just for a human jukebox of singles from one or two “heyday” records. Where many beloved “90’s bands” have long since vanished, Low seems to have proven time and again not only their staying power, but their ability to evolve, playing with production techniques while also maintaining their stylistic voice, and composing album after album worth the unflagging interest and enthusiasm of their loyal fanbase.
Low’s heyday is 22 years long, and still going.
Johnny Brenda's, Low, Mary Lattimore