Opening with the gloriously brutal ‘Breaker’, you have a slight inkling that it could be an evening of sheer intensity. That inkling would not be far off the mark. Duluth, Minnesota’s Retribution Gospel Choir, founded and fronted by Alan Sparhawk (of Low fame) are a tour de force of a side-project band, offering a hugely different musical proposition to the one he made his name with. It’s something of a tonic to the delicate, sombre lullabies we’re used to. Instead we’re treated to short, snappy and sharp songs that often start out poppy melodic and then turn into space out improvs. It’s Sparhawk’s opportunity to cut loose the slow-core shackles. Akin to how Crazy Horse was for Neil Young, hey?
Within minutes of the band arriving on stage Sparhawk already seems to be in full swing and enjoying himself. “How shall we start the show? The same way we always do…” before they tear through above said: stomping version of ‘Breaker’, a song which infact appears on Low’s Drums and Guns in a more electronic, delicate guise. The band all dressed out in black drop choice cuts such as ‘Workin’ Hard’ and ‘Hide it Away’, from their second album, inspirationally entitled… erm… 2. They’re played with an operational efficiently although mid-way through, they do begin to indulge and veer into guitar wig outs, which I suppose only heighten the feeling that the band are relishing the freedom of just letting loose, but I did find my mind trailing off. Not for long though.
They bring it back home with sweet renditions of ‘Kids’ (“those damn kids don’t they understand that you can’t do shit like that!”), ’For Her Blood’, ‘Electric Guitar’, one of the set highlights which benefits from strong lucid vocals, thumping beats and a solid bass structures (complete with theatrical stance poses by Steve Garrington - priceless!) – perfectly executed. Finishing off with another Low song, ‘Take Your Time’ which bookends the set nicely, Sparhawk looks like a man possessed, clenched teeth, veins bulging and eyes popping. The audience are finding it difficult to reciprocate though. It’s London I guess. It’s Monday night. It’s a fresh collection of tracks and you do get the impression most people are in the audience because of the Low factor. A shame because he truly means every inch of his words and recital.