Fixin’ to cry

Low’s down-tempo style has spawned imitators, but not equals.

by Keri Carlson

Madison Square Garden represents the big time. The biggest venue in New York is reserved for the biggest names in music. A place for rock stars.

It’s hard to imagine Low, the trio from Duluth, Minn., playing the Garden. The group is quiet and gentle. The songs are simple; yet singers Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk expand each of their notes to capture all their elegance. It is exactly the opposite of what you would expect from a group playing the Garden. The band would seem so tiny on stage and an extravagant light show would be too over-the-top for their music’s modesty. But Madison Square Garden is where Low opened for Radiohead last Thursday and Friday. “It has to be called an anomaly,” bassist Zak Sally said.

While the thought of Low playing such enormous venues is odd, it is understandable how Low attained the status necessary to play such a venue, even if it was only to open the show.

“I Could Live in Hope,” Low’s first album, released in 1994, awed the world of college music. Haunted hazy guitars and a chilling high hat and snare crept under the skin. The warmly layered vocals shone through the cracks of the music, bringing a soothing comfort.

From that point on, Low inspired a handful of other indie rock bands to strive for a similar sound deemed slow-core. Many of these bands purposely make their songs extremely slow for a sorrowful effect that too often induces only boredom. Low does not seem to intentionally slow the tempo of their songs; it is simply the way they are – nothing forced. And that explains why Low songs, while slow, are not necessarily all tear-jerkers. In fact, like the title of their album, Low generally inspires hope.

Alan Sparhawk’s record label Chairkickers is the perfect home for Low’s sound. Sparhawk said “monetarily, (Chairkickers) is a disaster, but it’s a feeling we’ve helped out.” When not touring with Radiohead, Low has brought other artists from Chairkickers on tour. These artists differ in terms of genre – drone to singer/songwriter to blues – yet, at their core, these artists, much like Low, allow their music to develop into to something grounded and truthful.

Haley Bonar, who recently released “The Size of Planets” on Chairkickers, especially carries these qualities in her music. She should be the perfect opener for Low’s appearance at Triple Rock, an intimate club that suits the band much better than Madison Square Garden.