Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell Street (btwn Polk & Larkin) [Map]
Drinks Consumed: It was my birthday, I didn't count.
Review at the Owl Mag
Low was originally scheduled to play San Francisco in July, on dates I couldn't make. Then they decided to go on tour with Wilco and postpone part of the tour until the fall. Coincidentally, they rescheduled the Great American Music Hall shows for two days in September, one of which happened to be my birthday. Those who know Low well may not think it the most festive of bands to see on one's birthday, but I disagree. Every chord of their music is hauntingly beautiful and evocative and the show was fantastic.
That's me. That's my birthday rock fist.
After looking at some set lists from other stops on the tour, I didn't expect them to play much, if anything, from their 2005 release, The Great Destroyer, so when they opened with "Cue the Strings" I was pleasantly surprised. Destroyer is their first album working with producer David Fridmann—"the fifth flaming lip"—and was a wildly popular rock 'n' roll departure from their albums. After the opening song they moved into tracks from the 2007 album, Drums and Guns: "Sandinista," "In Silence," and "Take Your Time." Drums and Guns was also produced by Fridmann but is not a natural progression from Destroyer in sound. It's a return to minimal, creeping melodies and crystalline percussion, with a little synth thrown in here and there, but brings with it the lack of restraint and tendency toward experimentation we saw on Destroyer. The next track was something that I sadly couldn't identify but it was old: slow, droning, and, at times, psychedelic. Then "Dragonfly" from 'Guns,' "Silver Rider" from Destroyer, and back to the new album with "Belarus." They pulled out "Point of Disgust" from Trust and closed out the set with "Violent Past," "Murderer," and "Breaker" from Guns.
I have never been the kind of person to yell things out at shows, save the one time I screamed "Fuck yeah!" when Kings of Convenience played the chorus from Pavement's "Range Life." (I thought others would be as excited as me but I was wrong.) But it was my birthday, the whiskey was flowing, and when other people started shouting song titles I couldn't help myself—"WHEN I GO DEAF" just came out. This was followed by a friend shouting, "It's her birthday!" and another friend asking, "Where do I get the dragonfly pills?" a reference to a "Dragonfly" from Drums and Guns (We took our pills / It changed the world / We had our fill / But when we realized / That we were dragonflies). Others shouted a few random requests but the band continued playing the set.
At some point during the first encore after they played "Sunflower," I was at the bar making someone buy me a drink when Alan Sparhawk asked, "Where's the birthday girl? Is it really her birthday?" There was no way for him to see me jumping up and down in the back of the room waving my arms like a moron and yelling, "YES, YES IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!!!" but fortunately Koshi (who takes the pictures for my reviews) was in front of the stage shooting the band and confirmed that it was, in fact, my day of birth. As Sparhawk strummed the first few chords and sang the first line of my requested song, I went to stand in front of the stage. Then I realized that an incredibly wasted man was yelling, "Transmission!" from the balcony, and apparently had been doing so the whole show. Sparhawk stopped playing, turned his attention to the raging fan, and told the audience it was his drunk uncle who follows him around. Some banter and a profession of love from the drunk guy later, Sparhawk realized this guy wouldn't be satisfied until the heard his song so they played it. It's a really amazing cover of Joy Division (and one of my favorite covers of all time). They went right into "When I Go Deaf" which is twice as haunting live as it is on the album. Happy birthday to me! I could have done without the seizure-inducing strobe light during the second encore, though.
Even if they hadn't played "When I Go Deaf" and even if it hadn't been my birthday, this would still be one of my favorite shows of the year. Mimi and Alan sound beautiful together and the mix of old songs and new songs flowed well. Their live performance was so compelling when I found out they'd be playing a small free show at Stanford the following Thursday, I hung around after work and went over to see them again with a friend who goes to school there. There was more banter, and not just because one of the organizers introduced them as "the saddest band in the world." Alan appears much more comfortable in a small room of strangers to their music than in a large room like the Great American Music Hall.