LISTEN IN: Low captures emotion, crowd

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Duluth band Low performs last Saturday night at First Avenue in Minneapolis. - Eric Johnson/

For a band built around slow tempos and vocal harmonies, Low’s performance last Saturday was about as high energy as it gets — largely thanks to a home crowd.

Low performed to a packed First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis April 16. Performances by the Duluth-based band aren’t your stereotypical rock shows with headbanging or — for the hard rock fans — a mosh pit. The concert felt more like an acoustic performance with the audience content to listen to the words and music.

Low captured all the emotion of their records, which was best exemplified by a seething rendition of “Murder.” Tracks off the new album “C’mon” were no less poignant. Singer-guitarist Alan Sparhawk opened a dour performance of “Witches” by noting it was the first time his father heard the song live.

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But Sparhawk and his wife, singer-drummer Mimi Parker, kept the talking to a minumum and let their music speak.

Parker’s voice stood out most on “Especially Me,” a love song off “C’mon.”

Like their albums, Low’s performance was a concoction of vocal harmonies, slow tempos and minimalist drumming. The trio added a fourth member — a keyboardist — for their live set.

But the group’s polished sound took on a more grit live, thanks largely to Sparhawk’s distortion-fused guitar.

First Avenue was a fitting venue for Low’s sound.

The dark club and confined space offered an intimate atmosphere for a full sound, even when the band didn’t play at full volume.

Low used the space to its advantage by showcasing dynamics often lacking from concerts. At times, the band played quietly enough to hear a beer bottle drop a few feet away. Other times, Sparhawk turned up the distortion and filled the club with sound.

Low’s dynamics were on full display during the last two songs of their encore. “Canada” was band’s most up-tempo rock number of the night, and proved to be one of their loudest. Low closed the set with a crowd favorite in ballad “When I Go Deaf.”

Watching Low perform in Minnesota was a bit like going to a Minnesota Twins game. Minnesotans are homers: They appreciate the success and skill of their own.

Likewise, Low seemed to appreciate and feed off the energy of the enthusiastic audience. As a band that’s often served as an opening act for groups like Radiohead and Explosions in the Sky, the members seemed to relish in the boisterous calls for an encore, which were likely much louder than road crowds.