It seems you could use another fool

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blood on hands

Low – On My Own

I saw Low twice in two days. The first, at Fingerprints, my local record shop, was on Monday, April 1. A day later they played in the Troubadour. Here are my Opinions about that:

  •   To get tickets to the Fingerprints show, one technically had to purchase the album there. I had already preordered The Invisible Way through Sub Pop because it came with a four-song EP. I also already had tickets to the Troubadour show, but caved and bought the colored vinyl version. Mostly because I like colorful things but also because the cashier lady was cute.
  •   The way I see it, concerts are gambles. Each time, I’m betting $20 or so that I will have a transcendental experience. It’s the same principle when you go to a movie theater or any number of activities that cost money. In this case, given Low’s music and discography, I was willing to double down.
  •   Because I’m kind of a fucktard, I thought the Fingerprints gig started at 8 p.m., likely because that was when the Troubadour show opened. I left a little after 7 p.m. and walked (for some reason I had it in my head that everyone in Southern California would come to this show and there would be no parking), arriving at quarter to eight. There was no opener. I missed the majority of the show.
  •   Maybe 75 people showed up. I walked in and no one bothered trying to stop me or checking my receipt. The atmosphere was relaxed. A German Shepherd sprawled peacefully on the floor. A mother held a sleepy child in her arms. A comely girl sat cross-legged on the ground.
  •   The arrangement of the room meant I couldn’t see much without pushing forward, which I didn’t feel like doing. I used to show up to gigs hours early, walk in as soon as the doors opened, and stand at the very front. I realized somewhere along the way that concerts are more fun relaxed. I show up when it’s convenient (generally an hour after doors) and take it in from wherever I happen to stand. I’m more likely to have a transcendental experience if I’m not stressed or tense.
  •   There were a few dudes with neckbeards in attendance (myself included), but a heavy portion of the audience was older. Guys with ponytails and couples with kids or a dog.
  •   “We’re from Duluth, Minn.,” Alan Sparhawk said. “We of course encourage you to visit if you’re in the neighborhood.” Then he mumbled something I didn’t hear. “But it snowed there yesterday, so …” and he trailed off again. It wasn’t very loud. Actually, the sound setup felt like a folk band. It didn’t fit Low at all. I did not have a transcendental experience.
  •   On the walk home, I stepped over a pink bra on the road. A man with earphones on rapped loudly into the night, at no one in particular. A girl with two of her friends strode past me, her hands down the front of her shorts. Sometimes I think of America as void of culture, just like one believes that her accent is neutral. But the disparity between the audience and the people outside meant I felt the specificity of the culture in Long Beach, Calif. I heard my accent.
  •   On the drive up to Los Angeles I thought about Low’s touring arrangement. A few days prior @lowtheband tweeted: “They didn’t have Panera back when we were first touring… Or oatmeal at Starbucks. Or Starbucks. But then gas was 99 cents a gallon…” It got me wondering. Sparhawk and Mimi Parker have two kids. Did they consider giving up music professionally? According to Wikipedia, Parker did one tour pregnant. Surely Sparhawk’s side project, Retribution Gospel Choir, had something to do with the thought that he could still make money touring while Parker took care of the kids. He also does production stuff in Duluth. But since they stuck with it: How much sex do they have on tour? Do they ever share a room with the third band member? Who do the kids stay with when they’re on the road? What professions did they consider? Does the bassist ever feel like a third wheel? Has he ever heard them having sex and had to play with them soon after?
  •   The reason I gambled on Low twice is because its music feels important, sacred. If you had played a Low album for me and said, “This is what Mormons listen to at church,” I would have believed you. (Sparhawk and Parker are Mormons.) That is, I would have fallen for it until I heard the words. Low combines stately music with wry lyrics. Check out the music video for Breaker to get a sense of their humor. Many songs feel heavy until you parse the lyrics and realize Sparhawk is making an exaggerated, acerbic joke.
  •   Mimi Parker wore a skirt, heels, and button-down. This surprised me, as the night before she was in jeans and a t-shirt. I’ve never seen a drummer wear a skirt and heels before.
  •   Oh, even though I showed up halfway through the opener’s set, I scored a spot directly in front of the stage, off to the left a bit.
  •   After the opener, the projector played a countdown from 10 minutes. The audience took many cell phone pictures of this. I’m not entirely sure how it helped build anticipation, but whatever. Again, the audience was older. I suppose when your first album came out in 1994, some of the older folk come out to represent.
  •   During the show, the projector played video. Most of it was grainy footage without narrative. For example, one song had clips of a man escaping a straitjacket while dangling from a rope off a flying plane.
  •   This new album ranks below the handful that came before it, for me at least. At the time it was still new to me, so I hoped that my lowered opinion of it was because of the bad album art. C’mon had great art that gives me a specific visual when I think of the album. The Invisible Way is just bland blah. Sometimes a live show can provide the image/color/vibe I think of when I think of the album. I’m a visual learner.
  •   During one video clip, between songs, a man jumped off a rock. Sparhawk held his hand up, casting a shadow across the background, and only dropped it as the man fell. Parker rolled her eyes at him.
  •   That was the most emotion we got out of Parker. It’s got to be hard drumming and singing at the same time. Perhaps the concentration made her stoic. Sparhawk was the personable, compelling one. He would make facial expressions to fit the songs and goof off. During Murderer, he scowled and shook his head so much I started to take the lyrics seriously. That’s the image I think of when I think of Low now.
  •   A main component of Low’s sound is the interchange between Parker and Sparhawk’s voices. On the records they’re both great. Maybe it was Sparhawk’s amiability, but all his songs popped much more. Parker’s felt stale. I’d pay to hear Sparhawk sing a cappella. Paker’s songs I sat through.
  •   The beefed-up sound system at the Troubadour served the band well. Particularly during Sparhawk’s longer songs, I felt the $20 or whatever I paid well worth it.
  •   None of the band said anything until the encore except “thanks”. No band introduction, no explaining song names, nothing. Even when they left, Sparhawk simply waved and they walked off. I liked this a lot. The music spoke for itself. I mean, I also like someone like John Darnielle who chats throughout the show, but this tactic worked for Low.
  •   When they came back for the encore, Sparhawk chatted with the audience, asking for requests (“this is the part where the show falls apart”). One girl mentioned that the Troubadour doesn’t allow gum and complained. Sparhawk thought about that for a bit, noodling on his guitar. “Chewing gum is like smoking weed. The more you do it, the more you can handle.” He mentioned that he tried gum again not to long ago and it knocked him on his ass. “They really make that stuff strong nowadays.” When they left for the second, final, time, he said, “I hope you have a great summer. Don’t get too hot.”

Low – Murderer

Alan Sparhawk explained during the encore set that this song is about countries that use religion as excuse to go to war. It’s among my favorite Low songs, but I prefer an extrapolated take.

God creates humans with different attributes. Ostensibly, we’re supposed to use whatever gifts we have to serve Her. Each organ in the body of Christ serves a different, equally crucial purpose, or so goes the sermon. That’s great for those bubbly, outgoing folk. That’s awesome for Mother Teresa. What about the rest of us? What about the swindlers, the cock-suckers, the murderers? God needs the more malevolent among us too. Jesus can’t die for the world’s sins if Judas doesn’t play his treacherous part. When God requires a killer, a thief, a politician, are those sinners any less crucial to the plan?

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