It was March 29th, 1994, the day I would see Low for the very first time. At the risk of dating myself, here is some historical context for what was happening in March of 1994. Apple released the first Macintosh computer utilizing the new “PowerPC” microprocessor thus revolutionizing personal computing. China received its first connection to the Internet. The Supreme Court ruled that a parody of an original work was protected under the doctrine of fair use. TV tycoon and convicted sex offender and tax evader to be, Silvio Berlusconi won the Italian general election to become prime minister. As for me, I was on the road to Brass City Records in Waterbury, CT with my high school comrade pounding out the drum parts of Folk Implosion’s “Slap Me” on the dashboard of his parent’s Honda Accord. When we walked into the store I couldn’t imagine we were at the right Brass City Records, could there be another bigger one down the road? Turns out we were in the absolute perfect venue to witness the biggest little band out of Duluth, MN. It felt like a dingy Middle Eastern hashish bar as we sat on large multicolored pillows with tassels scattered about the floor with 15 or 20 others in a tiny back room surrounded by bins of musty smelling vinyl. Low played 8 songs off of their debut album I Could Live in Hope, and not to sound too hyperbolic, but simply put, it was profound. It was truly unlike any other show I’d been to.
Fast-forward almost 20 years to June 20th, 2013, this time at the Spaceland Ballroom in Hamden, CT. Husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker took the stage, this time with newcomer Steve Garrington and not John Nichols who had played bass in the band in ‘94. It was for all intents and purposes however, the very same Low. Of course, over their 20-year career, Low had expanded their musical catalog and evolved their sound, but never straying from their simple formula of lyrical lush harmonies and sedate down tempo melodies. The anticipation was palpable, perhaps heightened by the projected countdown, which began at about the 8-minute mark and counted down the seconds to their performance. With about a minute remaining Alan began the set by explaining the rather odd arrangement of chairs occupying the back 10 or so rows of the Ballroom and then cut himself off saying “never mind, let’s just start”. The show had originally been schedule as a “sit down” performance but later the band decided to allow for some standing room as well. Whether the audience was seated in a chair or on the floor, most decided to sit and allow the sonic tide to wash over them. As the countdown ticked off the screen it was replaced by slow rolling grainy black and white film footage. Sparhawk and Parker’s haunting harmonies joined in as their words echoed through the space: “Well you could always count on your friends to get you high. That’s right.” A track off of their 2013 album The Invisible Way, “Plastic Cup” was one of 7 songs played from their latest release on Sub Pop Records. Their set drew exclusively from their previous three albums dating back to their first Sub Pop release, The Great Destroyer from 2005. That was until the encore when Sparhawk finally engaged the crowd, asking “anything you really need to hear?” It was unanimous, “Dinosaur Act,” it was. Recorded in 2000, “Dinosaur Act” was released as a single and then subsequently included on the critically acclaimed Things We Lost in the Fire, Low’s final Kranky release in 2001.
After one final number, appropriately titled “Goodnight,” Sparhawk graciously thanked the crowd, gave a nod to his children in the crowd, and exited stage left. And with that, the hour of virtual silence among the masses turned once again to the casual conversation, shuffling of feet, and typical ambient sounds expected at any bar or performance space. That is of course, unless Low is playing.
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