The Low Anthem – Vicar Street, Dublin 8jan10

My friend Brian recommended The Low Anthem to me a few weeks ago and lent me ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’. It’s a mix of beautiful and barnstorming folk and I hadn’t even listened to the whole thing when I noticed, entered, and WON! a ticket competition in the last edition of Le Cool. Le Cool is a great e-zine that highlights interesting things happening in the city* every week. Or, as they more eloquently put it, “a free weekly cultural agenda and alternative city guide”. It works really well on the iPhone, too, with the pages sliding over to the side.

* It’s published for Barcelona, Madrid, Lisboa, London, Istanbul, Moscow, and Budapest, too.

The gig was in Vicar Street, having been moved from Whelan’s due to a large demand for tickets. The whole ground floor of Vicar Street was packed with 20s/30s cool people and older cool people. There were beards and checked shirts in abundance. We had our customary Jameson & Cokes in the bar. I thought it was more of a longneck beer night, but Brian has a predilection for that particular combo which wouldn’t be staved off and I joined him for auld lang syne. It’s a while since we saw each other and so we managed to miss the support act but we wandered into the main venue shortly after nine and contemplated where it would be best to stand. Having found the perfect spot that managed to suit our very different physicalities, we awaited the band’s arrival on stage. Tom Waits played over the PA system…

Photo taken using Hipstamatic iPhone app

At about twenty-five past nine they came on, looking just right. The lead singer said they’d be playing three types of songs: songs from ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’, some new songs they’d been working on for the past six weeks, and some old American songs. I’m afraid I didn’t even bother trying to keep a setlist because I don’t know any of the titles and figured I’d have a hard time finding the names of two-thirds of the set anyway. Plus, it’s pretty nerdy to be tapping away on the iPhone during the gig!

It was all pretty chilled out for the first handful of songs and we were treated to the beautiful array of sounds they had brought to play for us: an old reed organ sat on the left of the stage; an upright bass, an electric guitar (Fender Mustang, maybe…?), a less-than-full-size acoustic; a lovely bits-and-pieces drum kit which comprised a proper marching bass drum, a snare drum, high hi-hats that wobbled about satisfyingly when they were played, and two great-sounding cymbals. In one of the early songs, a home-made shaker was produced. The girl interested me most (yeah, yeah, settle down…) as she played clarinet, bass guitar, electric guitar, sang, and played a set of crotales with a bow. Generally doing the kind of multi-instrumental shenanigans that I do πŸ™‚ Her clarinet tone was lovely and I really liked the way she played – using a wide vibrato for the slower, more sonorous songs, rising up on her toes slightly for the higher notes, not shying away from some lovely high lines up at the top end of the instrument’s register… In one of the last songs she and the reed organ player did some sweet harmonies, the sounds blending beautifully, as you’d expect.

When they let rip (on tracks like ‘The Horizon Is A Beltway’), we were riveted for a completely different reason. I was really drawn in by their committed, raw performances. One of the stand-out songs was something about whiskey and women driving you insane (sorry, rubbish not to have a title, I know…!) and on each climax of the chorus they held a chord for *just* a bit longer, the girl going up to the next harmony until they literally couldn’t hold it any more. It’s this kind of thing that makes a live performance trump a recording every time. (If the artists are prepared to take those risks…)

Another lovely moment was in a song where three of the four musicians played wind instruments: the girl’s clarinet being augmented by another and also by a brass band-style horn (i.e. not a French horn). On the last horn break the singer took out two phones (he’d tried to explain this to us, but we didn’t really get it until he did it). He called one with the other and put them on speaker, whistling into them, causing feedback. It made a ghostly, theremin-like noise throughout the crowd (some people had copped on what to do…).

This person got some really good footage from up near the stage. On this song, ‘This God Damn House’, you can hear that lovely clarinet vibrato and then the mobile phone thing from 3’56”.

Here’s a clip of ‘Cage The Songbird’ that I recorded. You can hear the bowed crotales well from about 0’22”.

Here is Damien McGlynn’s review and much better photos than mine, from state.ie.

Question:

  • Since you all change instruments so much, how do you decide who plays what in each song?
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