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An Evening With Low – The Sage 2, Gateshead – Thursday 4th October, 2016

I’ll get drummed out of the indie fraternity for this but, until relatively recently, Low didn’t mean very much to me at all.

Obviously I’ve been aware of them for a number of years but, never having actually heard them, nothing I read about them suggested I would like them.

Yet I was finally introduced to them through 2011’s ‘C’mon’ and have gradually been assimilating most of their back catalogue ever since. That culminated in last year’s ‘Ones and Sixes’ being beaten to the top spot in MPT’s albums of the year only by the Chills.

So I really should have gone to see them on their last tour when they came to Scotland but the fact that it came at a busy time and involved a midweek trip to Glasgow proved insurmountable.

So it was a little bit ironic that, to finally see Low live, myself and Mrs MPT ended up jumping on a train south to Newcastle last week.

There was some logic to this. On a previous visit to Newcastle/Gateshead we had visited the Sage and it’s a stunning building. We decided that we wanted to see a show there at some point and seeing Low for the first time provided the perfect opportunity and motivation to do so.

The show wasn’t in the impressive Sage One (unfortunately) instead it took place in the ten sided (!) Sage Two. The room reminded us somewhat of the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in its design and the fact that there’s two very shallow seating levels above the ground floor. One curiosity of the 10 sided design is that there are actually seats above and BEHIND the band on those levels.

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The Sage from the other side of the Tyne

As a designed from scratch concert venue you would hope that the sound would be good and it was but the fact that Low are renowned as a quiet, live band undoubtedly helped.

What’s interesting is that Low’s approach to live shows allows for a lot of dynamic range. There’s an obvious corollary  here with the loudness wars of recording.

Whereas most bands have to be loud to compete with the drums, with Mimi boasting one of the quietest drumkits you’re likely to see there’s plenty of space for the instrumentation. Which means that when the band do cut loose (on say ‘Pissing’) the impact is heightened whilst the version of ‘Landslide’ is pitched perfectly between the quieter and louder sections with a crescendo that the recorded version doesn’t quite match.

The performance was slightly unusual as well because, after Belly last month, this show featured no support but instead two sets from the headliner.

In general the first set was the quieter of the two but it was also lent a slightly disconnected quality with the seating and the minimal interaction between band and audience. Of course, for all I know, this is what I should have expected but the focus was very much on the music, which was no bad thing.

The music was stripped back from the records and nominal bassist Steve spent as much time on keyboards as on bass. The electronic distortion from ‘Ones and Sixes’ material (such as ‘The Innocents’)  was also omitted but all that did was increase the focus on the band’s harmonies – surely one of their USPs. 

The ice though was noticeably broken at the start of the second set when Alan spoke for the first time and I definitely felt that the audience reaction was greater after that.

I was surprised by how many of the songs I knew given that the band have an extensive back catalogue and I’m only really familiar with the last three albums and ‘The Great Destroyer’.

But then again maybe that’s not such a surprise as Low seem to be one of those bands who keep moving forward in much the same way as Wire do. So even 10 months on from its release a high proportion of ‘Ones and Sixes’ was played whilst the extended running time allowed a slightly longer dip into that back catalogue than normal circumstances might allow.

What the show did do was lodge all sorts of Low tunes on the internal jukebox for days afterwards and it has also really encouraged me to properly explore that back catalogue, a task I’m looking forward to engaging with in the coming weeks and months.

And I’m pretty sure that I’ll find that a school night won’t be a excuse not to go to any future Scottish dates!

Low setlist on Setlist FM

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