Experimental Folk Band the Low Anthem Shows Why They are One of the Most Innovative Acts in Their Scene with an Excellent Performance at Indy’s Hi-Fi.
When I went to see the Low Anthem at the Hi-Fi on the night of the 3rd, I’d assumed that I’d done due diligence. After all, I’d listened to plenty of their material beforehand. With all the glowing critical reviews I’d read, how could I not? I was even familiar with many bands that had a broadly similar sound. Bands like Fleet Foxes and Dr. Dog, for example. I read up on the band’s history, listened to a few of their influences. Not to put to fine a point on it, I had put much more preparation into this particular concert than I normally do. I was, in short, ready.
The Low Anthem still managed to surprise me. Which is, ironically enough, not very surprising considering that the Low Anthem is an experimental act. I suppose I’d be more surprised if they hadn’t managed to surprise me. But I digress.
It was a treat of a show down at the Hi-Fi. The Low Anthem was in top form, the drinks were cold, and the stormy atmosphere was oddly fitting. If I had any complaints at all, it was only that the sound engineering was a little on the spotty side, but even then it didn’t subtract from my enjoyment much.
As I said in the preview, the Low Anthem are folk act in the same way that Tom Waits is. The designation is technically true, but they each have such and unusual approach to their respective material that shoehorning them into a single genre is pointless. They’re willing to experiment, to integrate different sounds or genres into their material. But it goes deeper than that. There’s a sense of adventure in their music, a willingness to look foolish at times. And there’s grit yes, but also a certain tenderness.
All of those qualities were on full display at the Hi-Fi. After a very good performance by Haley Heynderickx, a Portland-area folkie, the Low Anthem quietly took the stage. Very quietly in fact, I don’t think half of the audience knew they were on until the band actually started playing. Really, their stage presence is difficult to describe. While they’re never cold, they do seem just a touch removed. Almost as if the show is a studio session and we in the audience are just a group of rubberneckers who slipped pass security somehow. This is not to say that they don’t connect with the audience. Quite the opposite really. It’s almost as if they’re so into their music that the audience just can’t help but follow suit.
Minimalism and Melancholy.
From their airy vocals to their Warren Ellis-like violin drones, the Low Anthem expresses their sound like no other. While that sound remains deeply rooted in folk, roots that themselves range from the Greenwich Village sound to traditional Americana, they take it much farther. Retuning to my earlier remarks about Tom Waits, they, like him, accept that traditional American forms don’t need to be fixed and instead do as they like with them.
And they really do as they like. In fact, for me, perhaps the best part of the show was the flood of harsh electronic noise they set loose on the audience. A rough, grating rumble punctuated with burst of feedback screech and wandering drums. It was something that neither I nor the audience had anticipated. It was, in its way, wonderful.
In a more general sense, the Low Anthem tends towards minimalism in their compositions. Drones, minimal instrumental elements, echoing electronic beats, repetitive melodies, that sort of thing. This has the cumulative effect of giving their songs and atmospheric, enveloping effect. That is to say, they don’t blast sound at you like an inept fireman using the hose for the first time. Instead, they let the sound seep into you until it’s permeated everything. Like a musical mister.
This is probably for the best, considering the melancholic, introspective mood the Low Anthem tends to create. While they don’t play up the misery and discontent the way the Smiths might, many of their songs are rather sad. The achingly beautiful “Charlie Darwin’ in particular is just heartbreaking. However they balance out the tears with playful song writing and a sense of adventure. In other words, there’s sorrow aplenty, sure, but we can have fun too.
The Low Anthem put on a wonderful show. The audience clapped and cheered, and a good time was had by all. As sad as their music can be, it’s also beautiful. While Low Anthem certainly isn’t for everybody, they’re well worth checking out.
Keep listening, everybody.