Pop Live: Whispers of fragile silence
Friday 12 November 1999
IN ALL the long and distinguished history of Minnesotan trios named after David Bowie albums and featuring the telepathic vocal interplay of Mormon high-school sweethearts, there has never been another band quite like Low.
Unfairly stigmatised by its links with The Osmonds as an antiseptic, squeaky-clean enterprise, the Mormon faith is every bit as dramatic a repository of psychosis and extremity as any other religion. And the tranquil harbour of Low's sound might just as easily be approached as a refuge from the choppy spiritual waters of the latterday saints as the logical conclusion of the post-Nirvana US underground's slower/quieter dynamic.
Their music's spectral hush not only deserves but actually demands the atmosphere of religious devotion that prevails at the front of the venue. The silence at the heart of a song such as "Two Step" is so fragile and profound that an old man dropping a cup in a neighbouring borough might do it untold damage, let alone some loudmouth yapping at the bar. It's like being strapped into a harness made of spun sugar - one false move and the whole thing's in pieces.
Far from the precious individuals such delicate music might lead one to expect, husband and wife harmonisers Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker are a dynamic onstage proposition (as if sensing that he can't compete, odd-man-out Zak Sally plays the bass with his back to the audience). She addresses her microphone and stand-up drums with the imposing matriarchal presence of Pippa in Home And Away; while his face seems to lack the muffler mechanism that usually enables people to conceal what they're thinking, so his guitar and voice are complemented by an extraordinary range of facial expressions - from delight, to quizzical concern, to a compressed fury fit to chill the blood of Peter Lorre, in the space of a single chord progression.
The mood is less uniformly melancholic than on their captivating recent album Secret Name (Tugboat). A charmingly Jonathan Richmanesque ditty about school lice infestation and the occasional perverse dip into their forth- coming mini-album of Christmas songs sees to that. But as Alan and Mimi head back home to Duluth to "wait for March", when a baby is due, their stately susurrations echo out through Dingwalls' ventilation ducts and into the north London night like an enchanted mist.
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