A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Feeding My Passion For Transcendence - Twenty Gigs By Low

I like Low. They're my favourite band. I've seen them play live quite a few times. On twenty* glorious, life-affirming occasions to be exact. (*update - December 2015 - it's actually twenty-one now but I haven't got round to writing about the last one yet!)

I was sorting out some old gig tickets earlier in the year when I realised that I had actually managed to keep all of the tickets from these shows. Very pleasing (and quite unusual given that so many gigs these days use e-tickets which don't result in a satisfying visual reminder you can stumble across years later).

I guess the fact that I've been able to see them so many times is essentially explained by their willingness to tour so extensively and generously. They must be one of the most hard-working bands around. The number of gigs could have been higher - I remember a few London shows over various years that took place while I was visiting my wife's family in India (including a special Christmas show at Union Chapel around 2008 I think). 

I've seen them every year since 1999 with the exception of 2009 & 2010 (I'm not sure how I struggled through those dark years). My little boy was born in 2009 but I don't think that is in any way a contributing factor. 

I thought the twenty gigs would make a good blog post. I've summarised them below in terms of how many times I've seen them at each venue. What follows later is a gig-by-gig breakdown including various things like setlists, reviews, photos and random memories. 

I really hope they never stop touring. I'd be sort of lost without them.

Low gig history:

Union Chapel, London x 4

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London x 3
Royal Festival Hall, London x 2
Barbican, London x 2
Sage, Gateshead x 2
Scala, London x 1
KOKO, London x 1
Dingwalls, London x 1
Newcastle University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne x 1
Junction, Cambridge x 1
Queen's Social Club, Sheffield x 1
Brudenell Social Club, Leeds x 1

Low gig 1: Dingwalls, London - 10th November 1999

Where it all started. I remember hearing John Peel play Immune earlier that year and immediately knowing that this was something special. I moved to London in September 1999 so this gig at Dingwalls in Camden would have been one of my first in the capital (possibly only second to seeing Mogwai at the Kentish Town Forum a few weeks earlier). I can't find a setlist online but it was the Secret Name tour. I think the phrase I'm looking for here is "enough said". Heady days.
Back in those days I used to (slightly sadly) cut out and keep copies of gig reviews - here's the (rather good) NME review of this show by Neil Thomson.
Low gig 2: Union Chapel, London - 10th November 2000

My second Low gig took place exactly a year after the first (one of many weird date-related coincidences that crop up over the twenty gigs). I think this was my first gig at Union Chapel also. These were the shows where tracks from Secret Name took up a significant amount of the setlist. Sigh.
Low gig 3: Shepherd's Bush Empire, London - 22nd March 2001

I found the below setlist online. They started with John Prine! SWOON.

John Prine / Laser Beam / Dinosaur Act / Medicine Magazines / Sunflower / Two-Step / Kind Of Girl / Lust / July / Embrace / Starfire / Closer / In Metal

Encore: Lazy / Will the Night / Same
Low gig 4: Union Chapel, London - 23rd November 2001

I remember feeling that this was one of the greatest gigs I'd ever been to at the time. I found the below setlist online. If I could hear them play Long Way Round The Sea again I would be so happy.

Little Argument With Myself / Dinosaur Act / Sunflower / In The Drugs / Laser Beam / John Prine / Two-Step / Shots And Ladders / Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me / In Metal / Long Way Around The Sea

Encore: Lordy / Like a Forest / Starfire / Over the Ocean 
Low gig 5: Union Chapel, London - 24th November 2001

Second gig in as many nights at the same venue. I somewhat randomly remember Alan sharing an anecdote about getting his hair cut during the day and generally being very funny. I found the below setlist online. Note the Neil Young cover to open, The Smiths cover towards the end and two Christmas songs in the encore.

Down By The River / Sunflower / In The Drugs / Canada / John Prine / Two-Step / Starfire / Little Argument With Myself / Closer / Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me / In Metal

Encore: Dinosaur Act / One Special Gift / Blue Christmas / Lordy / Over The Ocean

Low gig 6: Shepherd's Bush Empire, London - 25th April 2002

I don't have any detail or clear memories on this one but I'm sure it was just magnificent.
Low gig 7: Newcastle University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne - 6th February 2003

A show dominated by tracks from my favourite Low album (Trust), on my birthday, in my hometown. An unbelievable set of circumstances. I don't think I really appreciated at the time how unique and never-to-be-repeated this was. I went with my wife Shalini, my brother and his girlfriend. I found the below setlist online. Two-Step to finish and a rare outing for Below & Above. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Candy Girl / (That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace / Tonight / Time Is The Diamond / Canada / Sunflower / La La La Song / Fearless / John Prine / Below & Above / Lordy

Encore: The Last Snowstorm Of The Year / Two-Step

Low gig 8: Union Chapel, London - 14th February 2003

A Valentine's Day gig back in London eight days after seeing them in Newcastle. I took Shalini along again (such romance, no wonder she married me the following year). 
Low gig 9: Scala, London - 23rd November 2004

Another show on 23rd November (three years to the day since the Union Chapel show). Can't remember a great deal about this one except that Ella Guru supported them and I stood downstairs.
Low gig 10: Royal Festival Hall, London - 18th February 2005

I remember being amazed how Low were now suddenly playing venues of this size. They still felt like my band though. I took Shalini along to her third Low show. I think this was the last show I saw with Zak Sally on bass (before he left to be replaced by Matt Livingston, then current bass player Steve Garrington).
Low gig 11: KOKO, London - 26th July 2006

Things We Lost In The Fire was played in full as part of the ATP Don't Look Back series. I took Shalini again (gig number four for her) and we stood on the highest level inside KOKO against the barrier looking down on the stage.

The concept seems to be dying out but I would love to see them do another full album show someday (Trust or Secret Name please, if at all possible). It would be great to hear them play the likes of Whitetail, Medicine Magazines and Closer live again also.
Low gig 12: Shepherd's Bush Empire, London - 8th May 2007

After standing for the two earlier SBE gigs I progressed up to level one seats for this show. I think I gave Shalini the night off on this occasion. A Drums And Guns heavy set I seem to remember with In Silence being particularly powerful.
Low gig 13: Sage, Gateshead - 18th April 2008

When this show was announced I realised that by a stroke of luck it was on the night before my sister's wedding back in the north east. Tickets were duly purchased. I took my Dad along! He enjoyed it (and said he thought they sounded like Fleetwood Mac).
Low gig 14: Barbican, London - 3rd June 2011

After not seeing them for a full three years I can barely imagine the levels of excitement I was experiencing ahead of this show. I had recently started writing for musicOMH and reviewed the gig here
I also got a copy of the setlist from the press desk. A real 'greatest hits' set. 
Low gig 15: Royal Festival Hall, London - 3rd April 2012

I remember feeling particularly swept away after this show. So much so that I bought Trust and Secret Name on sumptuous double gatefold vinyl afterwards. The setlist is below. If pushed, I'd probably choose this as my favourite Low gig. They played Hand So Small!

Nothing But Heart / Try to Sleep / Nightingale / Hand So Small / Witches / Especially Me / Sunflower / Little Argument With Myself / Waiting / Everybody's Song / In The Drugs / Silver Rider / Words / Pissing / Murderer / From Your Place On Sunset

Encore: Shame / Dinosaur Act / $20

Click here to watch a video of the gig made by Peter Liversidge and here for some photos courtesy of TLOBF.

Low gig 16: Sage, Gateshead - 26th April 2013

Back up north to see them at the Sage again. Shalini came along again (gig 5 for her) and we sat in the second row from the front. I bought Drums & Guns and C'Mon on vinyl afterwards. The setlist is below. Note the rare appearance of Secret Name track Soon towards the end.

Plastic Cup / On My Own / Holy Ghost / Clarence White / Monkey / Waiting / Just Make It Stop / Witches / Especially Me / To Our Knees / Mother / Pissing / Words / Canada / Soon / Last Snowstorm Of The Year 

Encore: In Metal / Dinosaur Act / I Hear...Goodnight
Low gig 17: Barbican, London - 30th April 2013

Back to London four days later to see them at the Barbican. I wrote some more words for musicOMH here. The last two lines are two I'm fairly happy with:

Time stands still while emotional thresholds are quietly and gracefully demolished. It's an intoxicating, hypnotic event that never diminishes in power regardless of how many times it is experienced.


The setlist is below. It was great to hear So Blue and Four Score for the first time (these didn't feature in Gateshead).

Plastic Cup / On My Own / Holy Ghost / Clarence White / Monkey / Amethyst / To Our Knees / Just Make It Stop / Last Breath / Four Score / Especially Me / Mother / Pissing / Words / Canada / Soon / So Blue 

Encore: Over the Ocean / In Metal / When I Go Deaf / I Hear...Goodnight

Click here for some more photos courtesy of TLOBF.
Low gig 18: Junction, Cambridge - 14th November 2013

The first standing gig since the 2006 KOKO show (somewhat surprisingly) and my first gig in Cambridge. A fairly tight set of timings both before and after gig (leaving work to rush back home for my son's first parent's evening at school before jumping on a train north). The setlist is below. Some surprises in the form of Majesty/Magic and Dragonfly while they played their cover of Stay by Rihanna in the encore (wow - just listening to this as I type and Mimi's voice just blows me away each time I hear it) . It's always incredible to hear Last Snowstorm Of The Year (slower, gentler and more stripped back tonight) and Murderer. I'm pleased I got to see them finish with I Hear... Goodnight before dashing off to catch the last train back to London.

Words / Majesty/Magic / Canada / Plastic Cup / On My Own / Holy Ghost / Monkey / Waiting / Just Make It Stop / Nothing But Heart / Dragonfly / Pissing / Last Snowstorm Of The Year / Murderer / Especially Me

Encore: Stay / When I Go Deaf / I Hear... Goodnight

Low gig 19: Queen's Social Club, Sheffield - 16th November 2013

This gig will always be remembered as the one where I met Alan at the merchandise desk and had a lovely chat with him. I may have been slightly gushing/embarrassing. We spoke about the tour so far and the different venues they played. He kindly signed a vinyl copy of the Christmas EP (later Steve Garrington added his autograph to it as he was packing away equipment on stage). I may have been a tiny bit drunk and did my usual thing of excessive post-gig tweeting.

Another great show - the setlist is below. The main changes were the appearance on Laser Beam and Walk Into The Sea in the encore (I requested John Prine, Silver Rider and In The Drugs).

Words / Majesty/Magic / Canada / Plastic Cup / On My Own / Holy Ghost / Monkey / Waiting / Just Make It Stop / Nothing But Heart / Dragonfly / Dinosaur Act / Pissing / Murderer / Especially Me

Encore: Stay / Laser Beam / Walk Into The Sea

Low gig 20: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds - 20th November 2013

Show number twenty. Quite a momentous occasion and it was great for it to happen at such a cool little venue. The coach journey up from London was delayed and I had horrible visions of possibly missing some of this but thankfully I arrived in time for support act Barbarossa (who I also saw at Cambridge and Sheffield). Check out his latest album Bloodlines, there's some beautiful songs on it.

Low reworked the set quite a bit for this show, starting with Sandinista while Clarence White, Nightingale and Silver Rider also reappeared in the set. The latter sounded utterly transcendent, particularly after having been omitted for the last four gigs. Words got pushed back in the set but served as a reminder of how pure and distinctive their early albums still sound. Pissing also stood out - it's a real staple of their live shows but tonight was possibly the best version I've heard. In terms of the new songs Holy Ghost sounded as sublime as ever and Waiting showed once again how it really comes into its own in the live environment. Especially Me closed the set as it did in Cambridge and Sheffield. On record it is so pretty and feminine but live the guitars are more dominant yet Mimi's vocals still soar beautifully over the top.

The undoubted highlight however was the super rare version of Two-Step that they played in the encore. It was a classic Low encore moment - the band taking their time to choose which song to play, with Alan and Mimi quietly exchanging a few words. Mimi ruled out In Metal as an option despite a few requests from the crowd and I think Alan started to play When I Go Deaf before cutting it short for Two-Step. Stunning. They don't play it so much these days so this was so special. A genuinely unbelievable way to end my little three day jaunt around the UK following Low.

I wonder how long I'll have to wait for gig number 21?

Leeds setlist:

Sandinista / Plastic Cup / On Your Own / Words / Holy Ghost / Monkey / Clarence White / Waiting / Just Make It Stop / Nothing But Heart / Nightingale / Silver Rider / Pissing / Murderer / Especially Me

Encore: Canada / Two-Step

1 comment:

gotimmy said...

Lovely write-up. We have quite a few gigs in common from your list, so it's great to find out that it's a shared experience.