With support from Lanterns on the Lake
Low - Live At Royal Festival Hall, London

An April shower of epic proportions sees tonight’s audience dripping, shivering and smelling slightly of wet dog as they make their way into the warmth of the auditorium at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Their discomfort will soon be swapped for something more soothing. Not the glass of wine costing £7, but Low – a band so-called because of their “slowcore” style – consisting of measured tempos and minimal arrangements. The formality of the venue with its rows of tiered seating, lends itself to the stillness that is to come.

Support is provided by Lanterns On The Lake: a six-piece who are perfectly chosen to compliment Low with their gentle melodies and carefully structured orchestration. The clarity of Sarah Kemp’s violin is combined with the resonance of Paul Gregory’s guitar as plectrum is exchanged for bow. This provides a swelling of sound so emotive and beautiful that the audience seems to sigh in unison. By the end of Lanterns’ third song, which builds and crescendos with a thumping bass drum that resonates through one’s ribcage, it is clear they have captivated the audience.

In the moments between applause and song, one can hear a pin drop as endearing female vocalist, Hazel Wilde, tells us with her soft, Geordie lilt that they are big fans of Low and that ‘this is an honour’. Certainly Lanterns’ air of humility is part of what makes them so watchable. Too soon, it seems, their set is over and the audience is left saddened by their departure.

Luckily, it is not long until Low are due onstage. Following a huge digital countdown (as projected on the backdrop), they take their places and the brash opening chords of ‘Nothing But Heart’ fill the auditorium. Abrasive and loud, these chords ring out before the sudden contrast of stillness that follows as Alan Sparhawk’s vocals placate us.

‘Try to Sleep’ sees Sparhawk and Parker’s precise vocal harmony. The song is reminiscent of a lullaby with its plinky keyboard and gentle strumming. It has a soothing quality that lulls the audience into a state of relaxation, which is retained through ‘Nightingale’, ‘Hand So Small’ and ‘Witches’.

Peter Liversidge’s visuals are varied, beginning with old footage of stuntmen cheerily throwing themselves out of planes. These images segue into the more peaceful backdrop of Minnesota scenery that is relevant to the band’s heritage.

‘Everybody’s Song’ provides a stark contrast to the gentility with which tonight’s audience have become accustomed. Steve Garrington delivers a heavy bass line as Sparhawk thrashes his guitar with sudden disregard for the ambience that was. At one point he sings into the guitar strings, giving his voice an unnerving electronic distortion. This wave of noise serves to shake the audience and wake them from their slumber, before ‘Silver Rider’ pounds them with its overwhelming three-part harmonies.

This aural climax feels as though it should end the set, but instead we are only two thirds in and it’s fair to say that the remaining tracks pass by in a daydream. Two hours is a long time to be seated in such a hushed environment with a tempo that is relatively indistinguishable between songs.

Finally they finish with ‘From Your Place On Sunset’, which is greeted by rapturous applause from the more slowcore-hardened fans and calls for an encore are met with ‘Shame’, ‘Dinosaur Act’ and ‘$20’.

With delicate melodies and simplistic rhythms, Low are a pleasant way to spend an evening. However, such powerful support from Lanterns On The Lake makes it difficult to feel as enraptured by this headliner as one would hope. Beware of lengthy sets and perhaps bring a crossword for those final five songs.

Words by Becci Ride
Photo by Sara Kiesling

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