Live Review: Low at Queen Elizabeth Hall - 20.06.18
In 25 years of existence, Low have surely played in every kind of venue imaginable, from scuzzy punk clubs to mid-size halls to festival mainstages. But now that they’re well and truly established elder statesmen of current rock, most of the time they visit in the capital they get to play in more plush, seated venues – and it suits their patient, epic musicianship better than any other space.
This time they arrived at Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank on invitation from The Cure’s Robert Smith, who is curating this year’s Meltdown festival. It was surely an honour for them to have received the invite, as Alan Sparhawk professed midway through their set, but it was also a great opportunity to air some new material from their just-announced 12th album Double Negative. They kicked off the evening’s proceedings with a double helping from the new album, starting with the album opening ‘Quorum’, which was played without the studio imbuement, showing off its inherent stateliness. This was followed by album track ‘Always Trying To Work It Out’, in which Low’s oft unheralded sweetness really rang out, particularly in Mimi Parker’s pristine backing vocals. Her voice became the focal point for next song, ‘Holy Ghost’, coming to the fore and dancing in the light, not showing a single sign of having aged a day. The first treat for long-time fans came with the airing of ‘Whore’, from 2001’s Things We Lost In The Fire, which rang out with the same sharp air of poignancy it always has, Parker and Sparhawk’s voices see-sawing inside of each other in perfect balance.
The middle section of their set showcased songs from the upcoming Double Negative and 2015’s Ones and Sixes. During these songs the sense of communion was palpable, with the three band members each in sway with their own instruments, focusing on their mind-control spell, causing an outbreak of slow and focused head nodding throughout the audience. With a slight fog rolling in, and a definite haze shining off of Sparhawk’s guitar licks, I got the feeling of watching witches around a cauldron. Bassist Steve Garrington couldn’t decide whether to sit or stand, usually starting a song in reserve, before ascending to his feet as his crawling basslines got into their groove. In the centre, Parker’s hands were as steady and unwavering as ever, beating out time with a reliance and resilience. The characters of Low’s songs often face hardship, but Mimi Parker plays like a grizzled vet who has seen it all and lived through it, unshaken.
This middle section was capped off by a seismic rendition of ‘Pissing’, from The Great Destroyer, which built with a frantic march into its erupting finale, Sparhawk contorted over his guitar, spilling molten chords; “I never know how that song is gonna go,” Sparhawk said afterwards, coming out of his mind-meld with his instrument. The weight of ‘Pissing’ was swept away expertly by the breezy lament of ‘Lies’, and another dip into the new material with a spellbinding version of ‘Fly’ to finish the main set.
Low were not off stage for long, and seemed delighted to give the people more of what they were screaming for – but they needed something from them first. Each chair in the hall had been given a mask akin to the cover of the new record, Double Negative, which we were instructed to hold in front of our faces and pose with the band in the foreground. To thank the audience for their patience with the stunt, they reached back to their 90s output for the only time in the night, with a captivating version of ‘Sea’, and then capped the night by again plucking from The Great Destroyer in a menacing ‘Silver Rider’. It was a classy ending to a classy affair played a first class band.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 21st June 2018.