REVIEW: Low at Cactus Club

Thursday night I got the last-minute opportunity to see Low at Cactus Club. The sold-out show was booked in collaboration with Chicago-based venue Sleeping Village, who had hosted them at the Metro the previous night. It’d been two months since I last saw live music so what better way to dive back into that world with a pioneering 90’s indie band?

Low is from Duluth, Minnesota and consists of vocalist/guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker; currently they’re playing with touring bassist Liz Draper. Formed in 1993, the band is known for their distinctively dreamy yet slow brand of rock (however, they reject the term “slowcore”). Their music is characterized by spiritual lyrical themes often melancholy or despondent, accompanied by minimalist arrangements and lush vocal harmonies. While their early material was more straightforward in downtempo indie rock structure, overtime the band began incorporating different elements and gradually would enter electronic, noise, and drone territory with later records such as “Ones and Sixes” and “Double Negative.” Their most recent album “HEY WHAT” came out this past September and is their 13th studio album overall.

It was certainly a treat to see Low to play “HEY WHAT” all the way through. Sparhawk and Parker had enchanting presences as they played music that was abrasive at moments yet angelic at others, abstract in cohesion. Upon completing their new album’s track list, Low broke into their catalog and played a handful of other wonderful cuts including two encore tunes. Behind them were lights that resembled window blinds, presenting vibrant displays of colors and patterns with every sonic movement. Sparhawk had some funny banter as well; he shared a story about being intimidated by Bill Callahan at first while on tour with him but eventually hitting it off. He also talked about how long his hair has gotten.

Low’s music puts an experimental twist on sad songwriting in a way that compels you to think pensively about what in life makes you feel most alive. It was a beautiful set and I’m glad I got to stand alongside familiar faces seeing it.

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