Sunday, April 10, 2011


Support for tonight’s show was The Head and the Heart a new name to me. The three band members took to the stage explaining that due to travel problems there were only “half there” so would perform an acoustic set. I assumed they meant their instruments were stuck in transit as they went on to perform quiet, folky songs on borrowed acoustic guitar and violin. These songs of dying for love, railcars and whiskey rivers were built around powerfully strong three-part harmonies. It was captivating stuff that sounded perfect in the high-ceilinged church and drew a rapturous reception from the sell-out crowd. Looking the band up afterwards it turns out they were indeed only half there in number – they are actually a Seattle-based six-piece and recently signed to Sub Pop to boot. I found tonight’s acoustic performance faultless but if doubling the players and instruments works as a multiplier on their live show they could be unstoppable.

I had high expectations for The Low Anthem tonight. Hearing their almost-spiritual music about losers, loners and lovers in the intimate setting of St Philip with St Stephen Church (built 1825) had this atheist salivating. Hearing the whirring pump organ of opener ‘Matter of Time’ echo around the cavernous interior was instant confirmation those expectations were going to be met. For music that is occasionally rustic and sparse, The Low Anthem come well prepared: the four-piece swelled to a six-piece for some songs with extra guitar and banjo, they brought a large sound and tech crew plus a vast array of near-antique instruments that spread beyond the raised playing area down the steps to the church’s floor and even up into the pulpit. The four musicians constantly moved between these levels and swapped roles - you clearly cannot be a member of The Low Anthem unless you play at least six instruments. And then you have to apply a bow to at least two of them - no surprise to see bowed saw but bowed banjo?

For all the use of well travelled instruments – wheezing, wooden pump-organ, battered French horn, over-size antiquated kick-drums – the band also have some modern tricks up their sleeves. Towards the end of ‘This God Damn House’, Ben Knox Miller asks everyone to call someone they are with tonight. This heartbreaking song of break-up and departure dissolves amidst an eerie whistling hum of gently crackling mobile phone feedback. It was unspeakably beautiful and a moment of deep connection between everyone in the church. The band also come with electric instruments and with the intent to up the intensity and volume – the energetic shouted chorus of ‘Hey All You Hippies’, the raw, driving ‘Home I’ll Never Be’ or the pounding drums and brass-driven ‘Boeing 737’.

But the moments I’ll probably remember most were when the four performers stood around a single antiquated microphone with just guitar or stand-up bass and sung their quietest songs, finishing the main set in this style with Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on the Wire’. It wasn’t the setting that made this so spine-tingling and spiritual. If tonight involved a quiet crowd respecting the hush of the music and the setting, one voice did interrupt the polite silence between songs to shout, no to scream “What a BAND. What a FUCKING BAND!” You sir are not wrong.

The Set List:

Matter of Time
Sally Where D’You Get Your Liquor From?
To The Ghosts Who Write History Books
Ticket Taker
This God Damn House
Hey All You Hippies
Ghost Woman Blues
Love and Altar
To Ohio
Home I’ll Never Be
Boeing 737
Apothecary Love
Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women
Charlie Darwin
Bird on the Wire
Smart Flesh


Anonymous said...

priveledge to be there. simple as that

The Archivist said...

Indeed! And set-list now corrected with thanks to AG!