Last night: we popped up to The Sage, Gateshead, the first time I’d ever been to a concert there. To see a band which has been on my “second-favourites” list for a few years, but who I’ve never really been a fan of. Low. The audience was a strange mixture: lots of former indie-boys now in their thirties, and a good supply of men with long hair, glasses, and bristly Vollbart beards. We spotted, in the audience, the waitress from the Side Café in Newcastle, a very good café which I’m sure I’d written about on this site before; but I can’t find any such post anywhere. Ah well; it’s a very good cafe, and I even have a photo:
My first thoughts about the venue itself: it seems very big from the outside, but Hall Two, in which the bad were playing, is tiny. An octogon, much taller than it is wide, with two rows of balconies from which you could, if you wished, peer down at the band from a great height. The balconies are in the round, which singer Alan didn’t like – “it’s like having an angel on your shoulder,” he said. He doesn’t do banter, which led to long silences between some songs whilst he fiddled with his pedals and feedback equipment, a pair of miked-up monitors behind him. “Play more new songs!” shouted the audience. “Play more old songs!” “Play songs from in the middle!” “Play songs in the order on that piece of paper in front of you!”* “Can anyone else hear … voices?” replied the taciturn Alan.
They’d been preceded by The Helio Sequence, a drummer/guitarist duo from Portland, who had never been over to Britain before. They were rather chattier. “Hello, Newcastle!” shouted their singer-guitarist. “They told us not to say that. ‘No, no whatever you say, not Newcastle, this is Gateshead.’ So I thought I’d say it anyway.” Their music was good,** but what really struck me was: how much their drummer, Benjamin Weikel,*** enjoys himself whilst playing. He is the absolute antithesis of the famous Charlie Watts: flailing around and bringing his arms up high, a joyous and broad smile on his face.
Low are on an album-promoting tour; but, as per the requests, they did indeed play a good mixture of old and new songs – the oldest I recognised being “Lion/Lamb” from their late-90s album Secret Name; but as I don’t have any of their earlier albums, there may well have been older songs I didn’t know before. They really are a beautiful band to hear live, singers Alan and Mimi harmonising beautifully together, supported by a tremendous wash of noise from the two intruments, guitar and bass guitar. With those alone they can fill the space entirely with sound. Before the gig, regular reader and commenter Kahlan asked me what sort of music they play. Now, I hate genre-classification anyway; but I was stuck for words to describe them. They turn a minimalist collection of instruments – Mimi’s drumkit consisted solely of two drums and two cymbals**** – into a grand swell of mind-filling sound. I went away with my ears ringing and a smile on my face.
* which, I think, came from one of the angels over his shoulder.
** K already has two of their albums anyway, so she already knew this.
*** a sometime member of Modest Mouse, according to the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia
**** plus a few other hand-held things like tambourine and sleigh bells. Sadly, despite having the sleigh bells with them, they didn’t play my favourite Low song, “Just Like Christmas”.