The Low Anthem, Proud Brighton Ballroom (Brighton, UK, 6/18/12)
I’m used to seeing the stage for a Low Anthem show strewn with all manner of instruments but a couple of tins of paint? No, me neither!
The indie-folk group, a quintet in its current incarnation, was making a welcome return to Brighton and it was somewhat of a surprise to learn that the choice of venue was the 200 capacity Proud Brighton Ballroom. Literally filled to the rafters, this intimate setting nevertheless augured well for their particular brand of melodious harmonies and captivating lyrics. Led by Ben Knox-Miller whose voice ranges from a hushed falsetto to a scornful wail, the band opened with the title track from last year’s release SMART FLESH then dipped into their breakthrough album OH MY GOD, CHARLIE DARWIN. Songs from these two albums featured heavily in tonight’s set list, most of which was made up ‘on the hoof’. The quieter songs in their repertoire were gorgeous, especially when Knox-Miller, Jocie Adams and Jeff Prystowsky huddled around a single microphone, but the louder ones suffered from an extremely poor sound mix. Vocals were completely drowned out by the instruments and unless you were familiar with the tune of (for example) Boeing 737 you would have been hard pushed to recognise what was being played.
The cramped nature of the stage meant that the usual seamless exchange of instruments felt somewhat clumsy; this restriction seemed to impact both physically and mentally with longer than usual breaks between songs and more than a touch of the shambolic nature I always associate fondly with the live shows, years ago, by the McGarrigles.
About half way through the evening a surprise rendition of Happy Birthday in acknowledgement of Adams’ birthday was followed by the giving out of ‘gifts’ – the audience invited to accept bananas, beer, crisps, tangerines and pitta bread from a collection of goodies specified on their ‘green room rider’. Asked to guess her age, somebody responded with ‘twelve’ to which she laughingly replied ‘perfect!’ Adams was particularly on form with a beautiful offering of Lucinda Williams’ Jackson. This was an unscheduled addition to fill time whilst Prystowsky left the stage and took, in American parlance, a bathroom break. It was that kind of night where no one seemed quite sure what was going to happen next.
They included as they always do This God Damn House a song written and left to them by former band mate Dan Lefkowitz. For this Knox-Miller used their now familiar technique of getting two mobile phones to ‘speak’ to each other which created a fluttering bird like sound to give atmosphere to the song. Apothecary Love was given a completely different arrangement to the acoustic one on the album – I loved that!
As the 11pm curfew began to draw near, Knox-Miller announced that they would do the ‘commercial’ songs – was there a tone of reluctance in his voice? What followed was To Ohio, Ticket Taker and finally Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. No encore – maybe the curfew put paid to that or maybe they were just spent out.
There is no doubt that they have toured heavily during the past few years; they have built an all ages fan base, their music has been featured in film (the Hunger Games) and their summer schedule shows little sign of let up. I just hope that they don’t burn themselves out.
And those tins of paint? Well, that still remains a mystery. Jela Webb