Tuesday, December 18, 2007

“This Is How You Sing Amazing Grace:” Low, Doug Fir Lounge, 22nd September 2007

Lately a veteran of the live Low experience, (having chocked up three gigs in the last two years.) I know one thing and one thing only: words do not become the Low experience well. Forget the pithy vernacular usually associated with rock journalism, the witty asides, comparisons to early Smiths records, use of the term, "classic pop rock sensibilities." Low are incomparable to any other band on the planet. You can't fit them into a 250 word review at the back of the NME. Hell you couldn't fit their sound into the Columbia River Gorge so there's no point trying to catch them in a clever sentence. I imagine that if the Almighty cried, as I'm sure He does from time to time, it would sound exactly like Low.

It is impossible to describe Low's music in words. One would need to create an entire language of swirls and stomach clenches, heartbreaking crashes and guttural whines to even come close to capturing this noise. Low do something to my head, a sad wistful, ugly, beautiful something and they don't stop there. They go grabbing at my spine, my lungs, my teeth, the soft part where each of my ears folds into my skull, the palms of both hands, my very soul, (and damn it, I hate using the word soul, but sometimes no other word will suffice.) It feels wrong, excruciatingly unbearably wrong, like staring straight at the sun through magnifying glasses and refusing to blink and it's not a car crash but I can’t bare to look away. I unplug my ears and I breathe in the music and it's so sparse, so frail and fragile and slip thin that one moron with a loud, loud voice could crack the whole egg shell in two. But no one ever does. The talking people leave when Mimi Parker sings. The true disciples will glare them out of the building. They fade away or fall silent or die. No one cares. Only those whose lungs are large, who understand the need for sounds bigger than words, who sometimes feel like undiscovered caves and empty skyscrapers can fully appreciate this music. You cannot be cluttered and worship here.

And worship we do: heads bowed, eyes closed, hands clasped, minds flying through dark tunnels and black holes. We run faster than the speed of light, faster than the speed of sound, slower than time itself. We feel ancient in our ugly skins. We do not differentiate between songs. The first explosion of enormous static, clouds and clouds of nuclear rage breaking across our faces, burning the places which resist, daring us deeper into the Godless loss, and the urgent waiting for a fallout. We learn silence in the earthquake, and rebel screams in the still, small voice. We scratch into the sound looking for a comfortable place to rest, hooking our fingers around the voices, the pure, winged voices, the harmonies which roll like anesthetic over the entire room. No one drops a note. No one seems necessary. The drums, the guns, the guitars and open mouths are mere vehicles for a sound which will always be bigger than the building which contains it. Everything flows like the best kind of dream: a swimming dream with summer pianos tinkling in the shallow end. We forget everything, even our feet and the half centimeter space between our heels and the dance floor. Tiny breath sounds cushion our steps.

They sing Amazing Grace like God intended. Peeling the love from the loss, holding up the razor blades at the center of everything. The entire room is falling, dropping through dark space with no knowledge of an end. The drums are stars and constellations, sin-drenched magnets dragging everything ever downwards. Sirens stop, conversations pause, people are trees and traffic lights, full stop going nowhere. The beer freezes in the tap, holding its breath for seven straight minutes. In the bathroom both faucets drip a last anxious drip and turn to clever ice. The sound goes swirling round our ankles and we are pillars of salt and falling sadness, each limb loosed and free of joints and necessity, of anything aside from the need to pulse along with the blackness. We are lonely little children, stripped of our clever words; our hymn books and holy shoes, worshipping a bigger God even when we cannot see his face. We sing amazing grace like a brand new song, every syllable catching on the roof of our mouths. We make choirs and orchestras with our tiny voices, rising to build Heavenly towers and tunnels beneath the ocean. We leave shining faced and sleep for hours, undreaming in our separate beds.

Jan Carson
(Jan blogs at http://specialfriends7.blogspot.com/)

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