Low @ Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool 18.11.13

US alt rock stalwarts triumph with one of the best gigs on Merseyside this year

Nov 21st, 2013 at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral / By Richard Lewis
Low @ Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool 18.11.13 In addition to iconic constructions Battersea Power Station, Waterloo Bridge and the red telephone box, architect Giles Gilbert Scott in his 1910 design for Liverpool Anglican Cathedral unwittingly designed one of the best music venues in the city. Tonight the hallowed surroundings play host to a band whose slivers of spell-binding minimalistic beauty are none-more suited to the location.

Almost twenty years since the appearance of their debut LP Low have sharpened and refined their sound, never deviating from their Rosetta Stone of slowly uncoiling harmony laden post-rock established on 1994s I Could Live In Hope

Now ten albums into their career, the set starts at the very beginning of the their mission as ‘Words’, the first cut from ...Hope gradually takes shape as the sound envelops the capacity seated audience.

From the outset the acoustics are truly breathtaking, each slowly struck bass guitar string, guitar strum and brushed snare hit is in perfect hi-def focus, drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker’s move from crash to ride cymbal sounding like the equivalent of a huge key change with the sound magnified so clearly.

Led by Alan Sparhawk’s mournful guitar lines and vocals that alternate between low-key and strident, relatively new arrival Steve Garrington is the unsung hero of the performance, switching between piano, guitar and bass, giving emphasis to each track, his presence under-stated but essential to the band’s live power.

Performing in front of the huge arch that forms the back wall of the sunken area called The Well with projections of birds in flight swirling behind them, the sound balance is so exemplary Alan’s off-mic whispered count-ins are almost audible. ‘So far, so good’ the vocalist says to the crowd roughly a third of the way through the set, a severe understatement considering what has already passed.

Excellent recent opus The Invisible Way understandably makes up a fair proportion of the gig with ‘Plastic Cup’ ‘On My Own’ featuring Alan singing one verse directly into his guitar pickup and the gospel inflected ‘Holy Ghost’ all slotting into the set seamlessly.

Earlier landmarks including a haunting ‘Sunflower’ from career highpoint, 2001s Things We Lost in the Fire along with diaphanous versions of ‘Dragonfly’ and a bare-bones take on ‘Little Arguments with Myself’ are as startling as their studio-bound equivalents almost a decade on.

A chilling rendition of ‘Murderer’ during the encore is possibly the high point of the entire evening, Alan’s lead vocal seamlessly harmonised by Mimi on the starkly confessional lyric. Their inspired, much-discussed cover of Rihanna’s ‘Stay’ airs last, the vocals reconfigured to work as a duet, the reception the song received at Pitchfork Festival earlier this year ensuring its place in the setlist.

Departing to a thunderous standing ovation, the trio leave in their wake a feeling that a true one-off spectacle has just occurred and with 2013 almost out very possibly the best gig held in the city this year.