Mike Atkinson

The Low Anthem – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Wednesday September 1.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rescue Rooms by Mike A on September 2, 2010

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.

2 Responses

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  1. caryatune said, on October 6, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Dear Mike
    Nice review. If you want to hear more of Mat Davidson,s “sweet sonorous voice”
    check out three tracks from hiis solo (Twain) album just finished. Not out on label yet, but you can hear them at http://www.myspace.com/twain if you want. He also put up a link to a recent private solo show he did in Brussels just after EOTR – (link is on his site to Home plugged Vimeo.) Low Anthem have new album, just completed today (being mixed now by Mike Mogis) due out in Feb 2011.

    Twain is an amazingly talented artist who plays everything from singing saw to fiddle, to banjo to mandolin to pump organ to clarient, to accordian, to charango and more.
    He is much like Tom Waits and M Ward in his uniqueness. He is on fall tour now with
    Low Anthem and will be doing 10 ciities in US with Emmylou Harris in Nov and also 6 cities with Carolina Chocolate Drops. Hope you can catch some of his solo music, it is lovely. He has to free albums up on http://www.archive.org also-

    Enjoyed your article and best wishes from a loyal Twain fan
    Cary a Tune

  2. Gigs of 2010 « troubled diva said, on December 31, 2010 at 11:42 am

    […] Belleruche 24. Squeeze, Lightning Seeds 25. Miike Snow 26. Owl City, Lights 27. Beverley Knight 28. The Low Anthem 29. Ellie Goulding 30. Bridget St. John, Michael Chapman 31. JLS 32. Rufus Wainwright 33. Kele 34. […]

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