Low, One More Reason To Forget
The noise that remains, once Strapping Young Lad is done with it, less sound than the impression left behind where it slept, is the substance of Low, a band with as plausible a claim to being the world's quietest rock group as SYL's to being the loudest. An album of remixes of Low songs just came out, and the idea of remixing Low songs made me queasy, but I felt bad about passing up a Low record, even if just in name, so I was pleased to find this live album, a recording of a 1997 performance in Louisville, Kentucky, released on the Chicago label BlueSanct Musak. Seeing Low in concert was one of my most memorable live-music experiences, but listening to a recording, unfortunately, is not remotely comparable. The scariest thing about seeing Low play is seeing them play, or, really, seeing them not play. The songs don't sound any different in concert, but where the silence between notes is passive, when you're just listening to it, when the players are standing right in front of you, deliberately not playing, waiting expressionlessly for it to become time for the next note, the suspension assumes an active identity of its own. Standing in the room with Low is a trial, and one in which you can learn some things about your attention span, your preconceptions about performance and public consumption of art, and your physical tolerance for stasis. You can try to simulate this environment, perhaps by standing up and closing your eyes while you listen, and if Low never visits your town I won't begrudge you your closest approach, but you're not testing the same thing. You need people, and the rustle of air conditioners, and somebody behind you coughing, and the creak of leather-jacket sleeves as the guy in front of you reverses his arm positions, and Alan, Mimi and Zak managing to make eye contact with nothing, not even the floor. You need to know that you paid to stand in this room, and that if the show goes on too long you'll miss the last train, and that, unbelievably, the three of them have done this every night for the last three weeks. You need to know that they have performed these songs, and lived through it, even though when you look in their faces you can't always tell how. You need to sense how wrong it would be to scream. Without these things around you, a recording of the sounds made at such an event is no more edifying or sensible than the audio tape of an avalanche, or a poisoning, or a dream in which the world finally stops its odious twirl.
- glenn mcdonald (this review is copyrighted by him, 1998)