– Manchester Cathedral –



Are Low a noise band now? Based on this astonishing showing tonight, they’re not too far off the label, which has seen them evolve over a wonderful 25-year career from slowcore beauty to fractured, disintegrating noise, with just enough of the aforementioned beauty still around to connect them to their past. It’s hard to find a band like Low, comprised of married duo Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, who have constantly evolved and changed over such a sustained period, to a point where this far into their careers they are genuinely one of the most exciting bands around. Their latest album ‘Hey What’ is their boldest statement yet, doubling down on the sound they tried out on 2018’s ‘Double Negative’ with producer BJ Burton, all fractured, distorted, noisy guitars swathed around Sparhawk and Parker’s gorgeous harmonies. At times it sounds like the songs are falling apart on record, that a glitch in the matrix is interrupting proceedings, so I’m fully intrigued as to how they’re going to replicate such brilliant studio and technical wizardry live.

The answer is by being fucking amazing. After the brilliant support from Divide And Dissolve have unholied this most holy of places with their pummelling, electrifying noise (check out their album ‘Gas Lit’ from last year, bit of a stunner), it’s a stretch to see how Low might match their mighty power with just Sparhawk, Parker on drums, and a bassist for company.. Oh ye of little faith; Sparhawk knows how. He immediately rips into a distorted, fragmented guitar riff that bleeds into Hey What’s opener ‘White Horses’, and it’s immense. Sparhawk and Parker’s pure voices breaking through the fuzz, it’s properly exhilarating to hear as the noise soars and envelopes this breath-taking 600-year-old building. It segues seamlessly into ‘I Can’t Wait’ with zero room for applause from the shell-shocked crowd, and ‘All Night’s huge, overbearing ending. It becomes quickly apparent that they’re playing ‘Hey What’ in full, and what a way to do it justice after being away for over two years. ‘Days Like These’ is gorgeous, a seemingly well earned moment of serenity, but even this is eventually ruptured by explosions of distorted guitar noise, the very fabric of time being shredded by Sparhawk’s guitar. ‘Don’t Walk Away’ is an actual proper goosebump inducing quiet moment, an absolutely stunningly beautiful song; when Sparhawk sings in perfect unison with Parker the lines “I have slept beside you now / for what seems a thousand years”, you can feel the ancient bond between the two of them. The first half of the set culminates with an almost menacing ‘The Price You Pay (It Must Be Wearing Off)’, its rhythms creeping into my very being, unsettling me juxtaposed against the harmonies, the huge scope of the ending threatening to bring the building to rubble.

After that monumental ending to ‘Hey What’, Sparhawk tells the crowd they’re going to “play on until we get kicked out” with songs from their back catalogue (cue: middle aged men shouting their requests out like the band will change their setlist at the drop of a hat for them… “you’re going to be disappointed”, a droll Parker tells them). We get choice cuts from right across their 25-year history, some untouched, almost quaint sounding, like ‘Sunflower’ from ‘Things We Lost in the Fire’, dedicated to the people of Ukraine, which might be the only purely straight rendition of a song they play tonight. Others, like The Great Destroyer’s ‘Monkey’, get the full throttle noise version treatment, and it makes everything sound absolutely huge. ‘When I Go Deaf’ (irony fans unite) and its massive ending is even more massive; ‘Especially Me’ follows in the menacing vein of ‘The Price You Pay’. ‘2-Step’, from 1999’s ‘Secret Name’ is so beautifully done that I just spend the song staring up at the heavens, letting Parker’s vocals wash through me as I gaze at the biblical carvings so incredibly intricately constructed by craftsmen from literally centuries ago.

In case it’s not been clear, this was a stunning show of everything that makes Low one of the finest bands around. It was monolithic, devastating, exhilarating, tender, and the holy surroundings gave it an air of the ecstatic. We must protect Low at all costs, for they are very, very special. Long Live Low.

Low: Official | Facebook | Twitter