The Low Anthem – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Wednesday September 1.
There are two types of Low Anthem song. The first type is slow, quiet, tender, wistful, maybe somewhat dark, and quite possibly in waltz time. It may feature close-part harmonies: not a million miles removed from Fleet Foxes in tone (the two acts share a label in the UK), but less angelic and more earthy. It will sound as if it could have been written several generations ago. The second type is louder, rougher, raspier, bluesier and more insistent, possibly evoking comparisons with Bob Dylan or Tom Waits.
On the band’s breakthrough album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, both types intermingle freely – but during the course of the Rhode Island four-piece’s hundred minute set at the Rescue Rooms, the latter type was shunted to a supporting role, mostly confined to the second half of the first hour. As much of the set featured material from a forthcoming third album, we can assume that the Low Anthem are taking the quieter road, at least for now.
There are, however, an infinite number of ways to play a Low Anthem song. The instrumental line-up shifted radically from track to track, as each band member traversed the stage and picked up something which they hadn’t played before: a stand-up bass, a cornet, a clarinet, a “singing saw”. An ancient field organ featured heavily, as did a set of antique cymbals that were sometimes stroked with a bow.
Bathed in red light and dressed in well-worn layers of cloth, the players looked as if they had stepped out of a nineteenth century daguerreotype, found in a dusty box at the back of an antique store. Their almost total lack of conversation added to the mystique. Lead singer Ben Knox Miller sported a Sherlock-style deerstalker, while Jeff Prystowsky wore a flat cap that had most likely been fashioned from a feed sack. Mat Davidson’s Grizzly Adams beard hid a sweet and sonorous voice (which we could have done with hearing more of), while the band’s sole female member Jocie Adams maintained a sombre, austere, slightly vexed presence throughout.
Although exquisitely played, in a manner which held the audience rapt and spellbound throughout (you could see why this band had received this year’s Breakthrough Act award from Mojo magazine), the songs did rather fall short on direct emotional engagement – with the notable exception of an arresting new country ballad, I’ll Take Out Your Ashes, which was dedicated to a friend of the band. If the Low Anthem could rein in their more reverentially antiquarian leanings, and allow themselves a few more moments of raw intimacy, they could be a greater band still.