Is The Blue New? – Low live in Edinburgh

Low / Divide & Dissolve – The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh – Monday 25th April 2022

When you get to be as ancient as myself, there’s definitely a feeling that you’re less and less likely to find something startling in rock music.

Yet Low’s 2022 album ‘HEY WHAT’ is undoubtedly an exception. It’s an extraordinary record the twin strengths of which are great songs and a radical recasting of what rock music can sound like. I normally tread warily when describing records as “best” rather than as “favourite” but ‘HEY WHAT’ is without doubt the best 21st century record I’ve heard.

This show was announced ahead of the release of the album way back in June last year when only ‘Days Like These’ was available as a trailer. Despite the uncertain position regarding the pandemic, tickets were snapped up because, honestly, I’ve missed enough Low shows in my time.

By the time the show arrived I’m not sure whether things were better or worse than I’d anticipated but nonetheless myself and Mrs MPT masked up to take our seats, central in the fifth row.

Show openers Divide and Dissolve were a two-piece instrumental combo, they specialise in massive, doomy riffs at ear-splitting volume. In contrast, between songs, soft spoken guitarist Takiaya Reed discusses racism and what can be done to challenge its prevalence in measured terms. The performance is, presumably intentionally, challenging in every way but, even if the music isn’t for me, I’m glad they exist .

So to Low. The big question was to what extent they would try to recreate the extraordinary noise behind ‘HEY WHAT’ particularly since live presentations of its predecessor ‘Double Negative’ largely eschewed the noise in a live setting

And the answer was, kind of. Alan’s guitar is put through more effects than usual (opener ‘White Horses’ being a good example) and both Mimi’s bass drum and new recruit Liz Draper’s bass sound fuzzed up. To some extent it’s only an approximation of the record, yet the quality of the underlying songs makes any differences somewhat academic because the show delivers a similar emptional punch as the record does.

Interestingly, all the new material was played up front in order (excepting noise instrumental ‘There’s a Comma After Still’ which was omitted). The effect was very much to create a suite of music with a distinct vibe, not least because Alan didn’t speak to the audience until before the record’s last song. It made for an intense listen which successfully conveyed the essence of the album without faithfully recreating it sonically.

The remainder of the set was a dip through highlights from the back catalogue which weirdly felt a little uneven compared to what had gone before. ’Congregation’ and ‘No Comprende’ from ‘Ones and Sixes’ and ‘Monkey’ retained the intensity of the ‘HEY WHAT’ material but some (necessary) light was thrown in with the likes of ‘Plastic Cup’ and a subdued ‘Disarray’.

Deciding on songs to finish a Low set must be really difficult as there’s so much to choose from but this time ‘Especially Me’ and ‘Nothing But Heart’ were a perfect fit.

For the encore, Alan probably regretted asking for requests for the first tune such was the level of responses. But ‘Silver Rider’ was selected for what seems to be its only outing (so far) this year. ‘Will The Night’ finished a tremendous show.

Low continue to challenge themselves to come up with different ways to present their songs but rather than this being a cerebral academic exercise they succeed in continuing to make thrilling and affecting music. Long may they continue.