The Roundhouse is comfortably full for Bella Union darlings The Low Anthem’s biggest show to date. And from the moment the band steps on stage, it’s clear what the audience lacks in quantity they certainly make up for in quality. Quiet, bordering on reverential, tonight’s gig is a lovely example of when an audience loves a band, and the band loves them right back.
The Low Anthem’s serene, delicate indie country folk creates that exact atmosphere for the evening – a low-key affair with no bells and whistles. At times, this proved a minor downfall. With minimal lighting and blacks out after each song, and little banter early on, there was a creeping feeling that were few differences between the live show and listening to a Low Anthem album in the dark.
The set-list borrows heavily from arguably their most popular (and finest) album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, with the lush vocal harmonies on ‘Charlie Darwin’ and the breath-taking ‘To Ohio’ lifting around the venue, filling the stark silence. There are also outings from their most recent release, Smart Flesh, including ‘Apothecary Love’, which is so atmospheric and organic it becomes hard to remember we’re in the times of Boots and Superdrug. ‘Boeing 737′, the stand-out single from Smart Flesh, felt almost too brash to sit alongside the rest of the set-list, with the onslaught of distortion and pounding drums jarring somewhat, and failing to create the soaring, majestic feel it has on the album.
The surprise track of the evening comes from the final song, a cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on the Wire’, featuring a return to the stage for support acts William Elliott Whitmore and Simon Felice, and a chance for the oh-so-quiet crowd to let rip, as the mic was turned in their direction. Which they do, albeit after they’d received much encouragement, and in manner more akin to a well-practiced choir than your average gig sing-a-long.
At a gig like this, where the music and nothing else took centre stage, there was a staggering array of instruments acting as the stars in this performance. The electric guitar and its swagger gave way to the humble harmonica, wistful clarinet, aching Hammond organ and that classic instrument from Americana times of yore – the bowed saw. All were deployed note-perfectly, not to mention the amount of instrument chopping and changing that went on.
To the casual observer, this was a gig that many may claim to be a thing of the past – a two hour set, a quiet audience, barely a mobile phone in sight, and a cover version thrown in. But as they do with their music, The Low Anthem have the ability to capture a different time, and present it to those willing to listen.
Photo by Anni Timms