The Low Anthem, The Roundhouse, (London, UK. 11/16/11)
You know you’re at a Low Anthem show when the stage is set with an array of instruments (including amongst others, guitars, drums, clarinet, pump organ, double bass, glockenspiel, bowed saw, trumpets) and when the four-piece appear it remains in semi-darkness and continues so throughout the evening.
And so it was at the Roundhouse; the largest venue the Low Anthem has played (excepting of course, festival shows) and to judge by the sizeable attendance for this single date in the UK on the European tour, it was a smart move as it allowed their many fans the opportunity to experience their particular brand of folk-rock in an apt setting. The standing space was pretty much full and the seated balconies nicely populated too.
The Low Anthem’s songs range from the most delicate whispered harmonies (To Ohio) to the most muscular of sounds (Boeing 737) and they seem to move effortlessly between one and the other just as they do in swapping instruments between nearly every song.
Tonight’s set list leant heavily towards the latest album SMART FLESH opening with the title track. Not much of a surprise there but the choice of songs, for the just shy of two hours performance, was nicely complemented by a few surprises along the way. They performed three songs from 2007’s WHAT THE CROW BRINGS – This God Damn House, Bless Your Tombstone Heart and Yellowed By The Sun. The former appears regularly in a set list but the other two, rarely make an outing. It was a treat therefore to hear them play less familiar material. Additionally, they gave us a new song whose title I’d guess at being Her Little Cosmos. Inspired by a kidnapping which took place in the street where Ben Knox Miller grew up, it is one of ‘a bunch of songs’ written about the incident.
Their big breakthrough came with 2009’s OH MY GOD, CHARLIE DARWIN yet they performed only four tracks from that collection with the lead Charlie Darwin garnering the loudest applause of the night. A three-part harmony around one microphone (newest member Mike Irwin wasn’t in view for this one) was preceded by a shout from the crowd ‘what a band! What a f****** band’ to which Miller responded quick as a flash ‘what happened to English modesty?’
Modesty was in evidence though as between each song the stage was completely blacked out, yet no one took this as an opportunity to chat; the audience was so respectful, almost reverent in its behaviour, quietly anticipating what might come next. Rewarded with a 16-song main set, the audience clamoured for more so the Rhode Islanders returned for a three-song encore. The first was Blind Willie McTell’s Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around followed by To Ohio and then Leonard Cohen’s Bird On A Wire for which they were joined by tonight’s opening acts Simon Felice and William Elliott Whitmore. Initially a six-part harmony, Felice then moved quietly to the drum kit and that was a signal for the audience to join in by clapping to the beat. Miller finished by turning the microphone to wave it in front of the audience as he’d introduced the song by asking people to ‘sing along, if you know the song’ – they obliged, gladly.
There’s a sense of gentleness about the Low Anthem but they then surprise you by belting out a real ‘stomper’ like their version of Jack Kerouac’s Home I’ll Never Be that somehow doesn’t seem at all incongruous. It is very different from Tom Waits’ recording of the song. Their idiosyncrasies have a certain appeal and I love the contrast between styles.
After three years on the road the group was anticipating taking a break from touring but has accepted an invitation to tour in Canada during the first two months of 2012. After that, in their words they are ‘cocooning’ to concentrate on new material and projects. I look forward to seeing and hearing what the future brings. Jela Webb