A dose of midnight paranoia and bewitching noise
The five-minutes of white noise in the middle of Low’s set confirm that they’re not going to deliver a festival-friendly greatest hits package. Miley Cyrus may be proclaiming that “we like to party” at the other end of the Parc del Forum site but the Duluth trio are primed for their midnight slot with the kind of paranoia that keeps you awake.
It’s a no compromise approach that starts with the slow disintegration of ‘Quorum’. Angry squalls of guitar compete with moments of sweet harmonisation between drummer Mimi Parker and frontman Alan Sparhawk, creating a broken and confused sound that’s teased out even further on ‘Dancing And Blood’. Built around a simple, repetitive electronic drum pattern, it’s so distorted that when Parker’s vocals manage to cut through they’re warped and fragmented.
The simplicity of the track’s instrumentation is the deceptive base on which they’ve founded their 25-year career. The slow, creeping lines on deep cut ‘Lazy’ and the pulsing drums on ‘Fly’ create a tension that’s borne of barely contained restraint. On the rare occasions that it’s released the effect is devastating; the sight of Sparhawk gnawing on his guitar strings during ‘Do You Know How To Waltz?’ conjuring desperate confusion rather than Hendrix-esque showmanship.
This sound of a world unravelling only intermittently lets in glimpses of hope. When Parker sings with folk purity, “I believe, I believe, I believe” on ‘Always Up’ it’s more an avowal of faith than truth, the sentiment falling away as the almost soothing drone is interrupted by gnarled guitar passages. Likewise, Sparhawk’s assertion that in order to avoid social catastrophe, “you’ll have to learn to live a different way” has the strained feel of someone putting belief above reason.
The slither of longing expressed in the almost conventionally structured set closer ‘Disarray’ nonetheless gives the band’s controlled anger and confusion a sense of direction. It’s this sentiment that ultimately prevails and that finds its perfect metaphor in Sparhawk’s optimistic request for the crowd to return his mobile phone to lost and found: the band portray a world that’s gone off-track but for which he retains the hope of salvation.
Low at Primavera Sound, Friday 31 May. Photos: Paco Amate
Follow all of Loud And Quiet’s 2019 Primavera Sound coverage.