I saw Low for the first time in 1994, a few months before their third album came out (I already told that story here). Even if a good fairy named Kramer–the producer and sound engineer on Galaxie 500–had already once visited the group’s proverbial cradle with blessings of success, I hadn’t dreamed that in the next ten years Low would twice surpass their performance on the inaugural album “I Could Live in Hope” with the release of “Trust” and “Drums and Guns”. In 1994, Low was just another band with a propensity for shimmering, solemn and oh-so-slow songcraft, giving improptu interviews out of their touring van like their peers Idaho, Radar Brothers, Spain, Souled Americans, and Red House Painters. In the moments I spent face to face with Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, they glowed with a generosity that their recordings were so cruelly deprived of–that contrast stuck in my thoughts.
Almost 20 years later, it’s this more cheerful side of Low that welcomes spectators to their soirée de poche. In the stairway that leads up to the apartment where the couple will soon perform, Alan monkeys around like an adolescent, but once past enthusiastic delivery of the first few tunes, their performance settles into a somber and tense equilibrium as the fragility of Alan Sparhawk and the force of Mimi Parker balance each other out. Each time he stumbles over a note, she breaks his fall and blows new wind into the songs sails as in the incredible finale, where Mimi alone carries the vocals for “Down by the River”, the climax of an improvised Neil Young marathon.
I learned a lot about Low just from sitting so close to them. I was impressed by the intense dynamic between them, a fusional complicity: I observed their regards, I shared their smiles, I was moved when, during a number of choruses, the two seemed completely alone with themselves, as if they were the only ones in the room. Above all, I understood that the essence of things is not transmitted in words: neither their own (“Words” being the track that opens “I Could Live in Hope”), nor those of Neil Young (“Words” also being the track that concludes “Harvest”). No–words, however vivid the image they may conjure, are not conductors of the essential, though Low delivered theirs with a very particular intensity.