Record Review: Low’s Live At Eindhoven EP

Low: Live at Eindhoven EPLow: Live at Eindhoven EP (self-released, 12/8/10)

Low: “Silver Rider”

[audio:|titles=Low: “Silver Rider”]

On January 22, 2009, veteran post-rock band Low played a set at the St. Catherina Church in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. That performance was recorded and has been subsequently released as the free Live At Eindhoven EP. It boasts a more grandiose setup than the average Low show; its four tracks feature a five-person chorus, an extra keyboard player, and two musicians backing the band on percussion and vibraphone. The album succeeds in capturing the tangible and intangible qualities alike that make Low such a lovely, wrenching live band.

Typically, members Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker, and Steve Garrington travel light and expand fiercely. Their live shows reveal that Low’s so-called “minimal” moments and its noisier outbursts are one and the same, or at least grow from the same tautness and precision. Low’s collaborators at Eindhoven must appreciate this, because they are gentle about finding their places within these songs. They color in the grandeur that already exists, rather than try to tack on extra.

The chorus does not steer “Silver Rider” into “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”-style, where-did-that-church-choir-come-from overkill. In fact, for much of “Silver Rider,” it doesn’t impede upon the vocal chemistry between Sparhawk’s steadiness and Parker’s tremolo. When the other singers kick in fully for the big “la-la” chorus, it expands the duo’s core harmonies, while still leaving a broad center lane for Sparhawk’s voice to pierce through.

There’s another great exchange on “Silver Rider” between Garrington’s bass and Dominik Blum’s piano. They trade, and sometimes seem to lead each other into, delicate fills between the lines of the verses. They don’t pull off anything tricky or distracting, yet their interplay alone makes the song fuller than the version on The Great Destroyer.

The other Great Destroyer track here, “Monkey,” gets a treatment that has the opposite effect. It’s still an ominous song — “tonight the monkey dies,” after all — but here Blum’s organ and the interjecting harmonies in the chorus spread the tension around. It doesn’t blur the effect so much as pull back a layer, letting it sound more like a song about desperation and exhaustion.

The track “July” pairs a second round of plush “la-la” vocal harmonies that with the aforementioned vibraphone. “July,” originally from Things We Lost In The Fire, is the kind of pretty song that teases you with just a hint of darkness. During the song’s last two minutes, the vibes and the vocals begin to chime in the background before ballooning to the fore in a wave of suspenseful restraint.

Anyone who finds the full Eindhoven concert recording floating around on the Internet will hear more compelling arrangements between Low and its European pals. The track where the added musicians take the biggest risk, “Belarus,” features the chorus pulsing back and forth in a polished reproduction of the scarred-analog feel of Drums and Guns.

Long version or short version, the Eindhoven recordings preserve one of the most incredible things about Low’s concerts: how the band manages to repeatedly reach epic crescendos without ever seeming pompous. “Laser Beam” helps the EP condense that effect into its short run time. Parker’s voice is alone in the church except for understated guitar and minimal harmonizing from Sparhawk and the chorus.

As free souvenirs go, Live At Eindhoven is pretty damn rewarding. The unusual setting highlights what makes the band works so well: always supporting, never crowding.

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