Sometimes it’s nice to go and watch a band you know nothing about but you are pretty confident are going to be awesome. Like reading a book that’s been recommended by someone you really trust but not even reading the back cover. This is the mood as SOURCE slips into the acoustic and charming Kemptown venue of St George’s Church to settle into a self-indulgent hour or so of live music – full of hope and ready to be charmed.
Low have been a respected sound in the world of alt-rock and indie music since the 90s and are still active. This is no ‘reunion’ tour full of classic fandom favourites to help pay off the mortgage. Sure, the line-up has shifted around over the years, but there has been a consistent and steady stream of material (since 2004 on the grunge-tastic Sub Pop label). Music expectations set.
St George’s Church is famed as an intimate and ephemeral venue and has played host to artists such as Devendra Banhart, Martha Wainwright, Bonnie Prince, Tindersticks, and Iron & Wine over the years. A fully functioning parish church for the rich and colourful Kemptown area of Brighton, it’s likely to be a stirring if not spiritual experience. Venue expectations set.
As the snow settled across the city, some new media A-listers, the contents of a Hove school parents’ evening and a smattering of well informed post-college young folk congregate in the boxy, ornate space. St George’s is very much a church; the bars are not bars but steward-manned can dispensaries, the toilets are outside, and about 20 per cent of the seating has no clear view of the stage.
But this is not a Beyoncé concert and the rich sounds of Low’s echoing and aching music rising up through the wooden seats is sufficient reason to choose this venue over others in the city. Promoters Melting Vinyl are good at detail. Up here in the balcony it is nearly impossible to see the band, yet somehow the colour-drenched arches, stained glass and a really charming Jesus are enough to provide ambience. Or maybe not if you paid full price for a £30 ticket. Many here will have followed the US band for decades; to sit quietly before them in what is effectively a village hall with extra spangle and reconnect with all the … emotion … might be an important life moment.
Perhaps Low’s live performance can best be described as ‘delicate thrusting rock’. Sort of like the kind of sex you would like to have if you are feeling a bit sad but still looking forward to the weekend. Like, maybe your dog just died, but on Friday you are going skiing. That kind of happy-sad. Time doesn’t pass while they play. The snow falls outside, silencing the city but inside the hall the (to be honest) fairly sedentary crowd sit enthralled by pitch-perfect melancholia and even needed nudging out of their musically induced coma at some points.
The word ‘tight’ gets used a lot in band reviews. It’s an aspect of a good, consuming performance that even the most talented newer groups often fail to deliver. Low are tight. Melody, rhythm and notes are sung, played and sustained seamlessly. There is never the sense we might be about to witness a calamity, only the kind of anxiety intentionally induced by the music itself.
And there is certainly no lack of drama. Low were emo before emos were emo. This is a sound that doesn’t so much creep under the skin as completely envelop the listener; dual range vocals and timely placed instruments evoke – well, whatever the heck they want to really. Resistance is not only futile but frankly undesirable. Walking out of the doors to find a white city at a standstill just makes the night all the more enchanting.
St George’s Church, Thursday 31st January 2019
Words by Louise Bloom
Photos by Mike Tudor