The band LOW, composed by Alan Sparhawk (guitars), Mimi Parker (drums) and Liz Draper (on bass for that tour 2022) conquered the Lausanne audience on May 16th. A group of « LOWlovers » religiously installed in this magnificent hall of the Docks, with the appropriate woodwork to absorb this organic and dreamlike sound coming from the instruments and voices of a band born in the 90s in the middle of the grunge wave. LOW’s influences are numerous, between the glam rock of T-REX and David Bowie, Neil Young and many indie-pop artists who served the very particular genre that LOW represents (slowcore) like Idaho or the Red House Painters, a sort of distant cousin of the shoegaze style popularized by bands like Slowdive or Jesus and the Mary Chain, noises reduced, voices enhanced. A brilliant show with warm exchanges with Alan, nice enough to accept selfies and small chats with the audience at the end of the show, and a head full of memories… Last night I dreamt that somedy LOWed me as The Smiths would sing.
LOW is a sensory experience, an auditory miracle for our helmeted noggins. LOW performing live, it is magical. Their show requires a combination of skills. Seeing faces clearly in the half-light (the musicians are backlit) can be hard. But it drags us to pay a special attention to the harmony between the equally beautiful voices of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. The Mormon couple from Duluth, Minnesota, have come a long way together, jumping on the grunge-slowcore bandwagon in the 90s to keep a particularly solid publishing pace in the 2000s and 2010s thanks to their presence on Nirvana and Soundgarden’s label in their early days, their current imprint Sub Pop.
We are in a cloud of atmospheric rock, letting out this duo of mystical voices, clear, worked to perfection. No excess of reverberation in the mix, the songs follow each other in the most perfect harmony. « Hey » offering dissonance and a confusing « twang ». This song is a new option in the band’s path, an opening on the experimentation. LOW seems to stay intransigent with its desire to regenerate itself. The duo offers a more raw musical writing while keeping the magic of its soaring vocal base then these voices are constantly keeping their ethos, that identifiable chant, evanescent and mysterious. Then « Days Like These » pops out. It is a bivocal pop melody not very orchestrated, catchy, a way to remind that LOW is to pop, what Eminem is to rap, a vocal signature with a very pronounced sense of dramatization of the flow. LOW is a vocal signature. Their vocal sound is an asset.
The public shows its passion, one notes a certain facility to listen in silence to the recital of LOW. The listening is calm and active though. One audience member, perhaps surprised by Mimi’s intonations (is there a major pop influence in Rindy Ross of Quarterflash or Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac in some of her vocal parts? Not sure, but it would make sense that Mimi loved listening to these two vocalists) talks outloud about LOW sounding like « Christian rock », singing too good, too clean, invoking some upper force… Not sure I understood what he meant. Comparison is not reason enough, the French would say. « No Comprende » arrives to plunge him back into a bucket of holy water in 70’s style. This title sung in the manner of Neil Young during the « Harvest » period makes us travel in the history of the North American music. We feel the spiritual proximity with the « Gods » of the North American folk-rock, LOW having made of his music a combination of numerous US influences in a very complete, distinctive and original patchwork.
« Congregation » is played. A song featuring a beautiful ritornello, a tipping point in a show where minimalism gives way to spicier musical tracks, opening the door to more powerful and dirty post-punk sounds. Then comes « Sunflower », a song from the soundtrack of the TV series « Skins » in Britain, reminding us that the Duluth duo’s discographic territory exceeds the 13 albums released in almost 30 years of career. Finally, « Always Up » is a beautiful moment of relaxation, a climatic sound that blows hot and cold on the eardrum just before « Plastic Cup » is played, one of the band’s recognizable tracks, not talking about a hit though. It opens its verses with double and rich vocal harmonies, a sensation of well-being in this « wall of (cotton-)sounds ». The band will finish in apotheosis on « Especially me » and « Deaf », a track taken from « The Great Destroyer », probably the most popular album of LOW in 2005.