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Wednesday, February 1st, 2006

Just Stand Back

So this show has been a long time in coming – Low had been scheduled to come to Toronto to support The Great Destroyer way back in June 2005 but that date was one of the casualties of Alan Sparhawk’s breakdown and subsequent cancellation of all tour dates. But seven months hence and one bassist later, Sparhawk is feeling much better now and the tour was rescheduled and for smaller, cozier venues no less! Even the original support act, His Name Is Alive, was back on the bill along with Rhode Island outfit Death Vessel.

Though he referred to himself in the first person plural, Death Vessel on this evening was just one fellow, Joel Thibadeau, and his guitar. While this combination in and of itself isn’t particularly special, when he opened his mouth to sing, you couldn’t help but stop and listen – even if just for a moment. Thibadeau’s voice is almost indistinguishable from that of a pre-pubescent girl. Seriously. It’s high and pure and quite lovely, and more than a little unnerving coming out of the mouth of this guy with shaggy black hair. But once you got past that incongruity, he was quite winning with his repetoire of sing-songy old-timey folk tunes and group finger-snapping. But yeah, that voice. Wow.

All I knew about His Name Is Alive to this point was that they’re one of Five Seventeen’s favourite bands and that they’re in Saturday Looks Good To Me’s extended family. And on hearing them play songs from their new album Detrola I can add that, well, they’re a little odd. They play pop music, but it’s not immediately hooky and is often unconventionally structured. Their sound is somewhat minimalist, but what is there is quite lush. They played as a five piece but with no drummer, just occasional tambourines for rhythm. They’re like SLGTM’s weird, arty cousins. Really not sure how I felt about their stuff, to be honest.

And Low – it’s an understatement to say that Alan Sparhawk was happy to be here. I don’t know what sort of mental shape he was in last Summer, but it seems that he’s feeling much better now, and is appreciating every minute of it. The band, including new bassist Matt Livingstone, drew heavily from last year’s The Great Destroyer as well as reaching into the back catalogue. Interestingly for the newer material, they didn’t even try to replicate the speaker-blowing, Fridmann-powered production of the latest album, instead giving it a leaner, more tense tone akin to Things We Lost In The Fire. This worked for some of the numbers, but songs like “Monkey” and “California”, which were so defined by the heavier production, sounded a bit thin when stripped of the layers of sound and keyboards. By comparison, the older material sounded superb, taking full advantage of the sonic space and the strength of Sparhawk’s and Mimi Parker’s vocals. Truly, they sounded amazing – especially Parker. While Sparhawk took most of the vocal leads, her sad and pure voice lifted the songs up into a higher plane like some sort of mournful angel.

And pictures? Just let me say I love my new camera like I’d love a puppy who just learned to poop on the newspaper. It does better than I’d hoped in low light, and you didn’t get much lower than that for the opening acts last night (two red spotlights and that was it – about as bad lighting conditions as you could ever ask for). But with a little finessing and switching to black and white for HNIA, I was still able to get some great shots and far fewer write-offs. Thankfully the lights came up for Low (and disco lights for the encore), so in swapping from the 50mm f1.8 to the 18-55 f3.5-4.6 and even cranked up to ISO 1600, I got excellent, clean shots. DSLR = the awesome.

And related – Pitchfork interviews Alan Sparhawk about Low, circa 2006 and NOW talked to HNIA’s Warren Defever last week.

Under The Radar gets Isobel Campbell’s thoughts on 2005 while iFilm is hosting the “mature content” warning-sporting video for “Ramblin’ Man”. Hers and Mark Lanegan’s Ballad Of The Broken Seas came out yesterday and she’s in town at Revival on March 4.

Athenians Elf Power will release Back To The Web on April 25 via Rykodisc. Billboard has some deets. Preview new material at their MySpace page.

The Toronto Sun and Chart get a sneak preview of the guest star-studded Sadies-fest going down at Lee’s Palace this Friday and Saturday. I’ve got tickets for the first night, so check back Saturday for the low-down on the hoe-down.

np – Nellie McKay / Get Away From Me

By : Frank Yang at 8:58 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. punky! says:

    Weeeee…I picked up the new issue of UTR with Belle & Sebastian on the cover today!

  2. keith says:

    Nice review – I’m now *really* looking forward to Thursday’s show. And HNIA are a bit easier to digest on record, actually.

  3. kristen says:

    Death Vessel is great… Joel Thibodeau is an amazing singer… he’s got some local ties to Western Massachusetts, the region I cover. He’s as enigmatic as they come.

  4. David says:

    Frank, specifically what make/model is the new DSLR?

  5. David says:

    Never mind – I see it’s a Canon Rebel. Nice sharp pics!