Reviews

The Low Anthem: 30 September 2011 - Denver

Photo Credit: Matthew Speck

After more than three years on the road, The Low Anthem has decided to take a well-deserved break. But not before taking one last look around North America.

The Low Anthem

The Low Anthem

City: Denver
Venue: The Larimer Lounge
Date: 2011-09-30

Despite The Low Anthem’s presence on the East Coast, they are still relatively unknown on the western side of the Mississippi River. Or at least that’s how it seemed at a tiny rock bar in Denver in late September. The Larimer Lounge is one of the best venues for up and coming bands in the city. Though it’s close to downtown, it’s far enough away that the neighborhood is quiet and seemingly abandoned. Inside, it’s small and dark. The walls are plastered with concert posters of unknown bands and a few now-known bands who once filled the grungy room with their music. The ceiling is low, and if a performer jumps too high, he’ll likely hit his head. The acoustics are terrible, and the sound is never good no matter how talented the sound technician. It smells, as one friend of mine put it, "like piss and rock and roll".

It was about four years ago when I first saw The Low Anthem perform. In New York City, they filled the Cutting Room’s small back bar mostly with friends and acquaintances. The then-two-man band of Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky swapped instruments between songs, and brought guests on stage to help with songs that required more than two players. They sold CD’s with cases homemade from cereal boxes, individually numbered in pen ink. I was fortunate enough to witness this show on the recommendation of a friend -- a former high school classmate of Prystowsky. About two weeks later, they were invited back to that space for an impromptu CMJ Music Festival performance. Even on short notice, the duo was able to pack the space for another memorable show.

Their presence on the East Coast grew quickly. A band that I had originally gone to see as a favor to a friend not only became one of my personal favorites, but also captured the ears of listeners everywhere they went. It was no fluke. The Low Anthem’s songs, though calm and thoughtful, possess an energy that can’t be ignored. They are lyrically poetic beyond their age and musically experimental while still maintaining strong roots in folk and rock. The addition of another multi-instrumentalist, Jocie Adams, increased their ability to play the intricate songs on stage, and matured their already tested songwriting. Within two years of that show in the back room of a hidden and now defunct bar, The Low Anthem was selling out shows up and down the coast, including the famed Bowery Ballroom in the same city as the Cutting Room, and a packed tent at the Newport Folk Festival.

After more than three years on the road, The Low Anthem has decided to take a well-deserved break. Their last leg of the US tour (to be completed with a winter run through Canada and the Northern US) took them all across the country. In Denver, the small Larimer Lounge was hardly full enough to prevent you from inching your way up to lean on the stage. You got the feeling that most people had been brought there in a similar fashion to how I had been introduced to them -- by a friend, with a bit of convincing.

By now, Miller has settled more into his role as bandleader. He maintains a quiet humble, but is obviously more comfortable on stage than he was a couple years ago. He jokes, and he elaborates more on stories and song meanings. But mostly, he and the band let the music do the talking. The band’s now fourth member, Mike Irwin (who replaced Mat Davidson earlier this year), gave them even more added range. Their show consisted mainly of tunes from their recent release, Smart Flesh, including "Apothecary Love", "Boeing 737", and "Hey, All You Hippies!" -- a song that tested the boundaries of the room’s acoustics with its crashing drums and belted chorus vocals.

One of Miller’s most innovative moves comes at the end of the "The Ballad of the Broken Bones", during which he uses one cell phone to call another on stage, whistles into both and uses the feedback to create a layer of sound for the song. At this performance, and perhaps at others as a new way of keeping the show fresh, he asked everybody in the crowd to dial their neighbor, and the entire audience held the phones together to fill the room with cooperative feedback.

Just a little after midnight the quartet walked off stage, but only for about thirty seconds before rejoining the crowd for an encore. All four walked to the front of the stage for a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s "Bird on a Wire". Sans amplification, only Miller strummed guitar while he and his band mates harmonized the beautiful tune. As the show came to an end two songs later, one man in front of me turned to a friend and asked "Didn’t you just fall in love with them?".

"Yes", was the response.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors


David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.