In the time of the pandemic, or, more accurately, the time-negating months that filled one calendar year and spilled into a second, few things shaped my weeks like Low. More than the evolving Tweedy Show schedule or any of the pop-up, drop-in, tune-out livestreams that filled my nights, Friday I’m In Low drew a virtual curtain between the workweeks I spent tethered to my bunkbed office and the days of rest, and at its best—with guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker melding and merging into one entity as only bandmates and soulmates can—it felt as dark and sacred as any Sabbath.
Almost exactly two years after Sparhawk and Parker opened their home to homebound fans via Instagram Live, Low landed at World Cafe Live on a Tuesday, proving that their holy communion can’t be confined to one day of the week. Playing last year’s outstanding Hey What basically in order, Sparhawk, Parker and touring bassist Liz Draper split the difference between discomfiting silence and comforting noise, decisively cranking up the volume before rushing headlong into the hush.
Backlit by striking, color-shifting stripes, the wire-haired, wild-eyed, guitar-wielding prophet and the deliberate drummer with an angel’s voice mesmerized the crowd from the opening notes of “White Horses” to the false start and reboot of “Days Like These” to the drawn-out outro of “The Price You Pay (It Must Be Wearing Off),” then rewarded the fanatics and the merely curious alike with a fantastic string of fan favorites from the past 23 years, including “Two-Step,” “Monkey,” “Nothing But Heart,” “Sunflower” and, finally, “Murderer,” with a quick reassurance from Sparhawk to ensure it was received in the spirit of love.
Mantra or psalm, koan or jeremiad, hymn or ripper, it all emanates from a single source, an eternal tandem, the energy harnessed by a felt-tipped mallet, a wire brush and mindful chords lying in wait—holding back, kinetically poised and momentarily paused, an entire universe of sound suspended between strikes, calculating time on a granular scale, not so far removed, after all, from the act of measuring weeks and months in livestreams—until they and we can wait no longer.
Australia’s Divide And Dissolve opened with a powerful sound of its own, with Sylvie Nehill’s precise beats setting the boundaries for Takiaya Reed’s clarion calls, their instrumental interplay as expansive as Reed’s between-song definitions of landback gestures, riffing on how to dialogue about white supremacy, and gratitude for an attentive and engaged audience.
—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich