Low: A Christmas Performance, Christchurch, Dublin – 13-12-16 – Gig Review by Killian Laher
Tickets sold out weeks ago for a rare chance to hear Low perform their Christmas album in a fairly unusual setting, the historical Christchurch Cathedral. With a full compliment of worshippers, Erik Koskinen opened the night, and while his brand of bluesy country didn’t jar, it didn’t really connect either.
Violinist Gaelynn Lea has managed to overcome a severely debilitating condition to become an accomplished ambient violin player, helped in no small way by a loop pedal. She played a short set which included Christmas-themed songs The Holly and the Ivy, I Saw Three Ships and In The Bleak Midwinter as well as being joined by Alan Sparhawk on one song, layering slow, deliberate violin motifs over each other to soaring effect. But in the main, Lea carried off an almost spiritual performance alone, finishing with a modern take on traditional ballad The Parting Glass. Devotees of The Gloaming etc would have found much to enjoy here.
Despite the ornate surroundings Low weren’t standing on ceremony, opening with an intense, brooding, dead slow version of Long Way Around The Sea, joined by Koskinen on lap steel. Heavily distorted guitar propelled a shoegaze-y version of Little Drummer Boy, and they even unleashed the frankly demented Santa’s Coming Over which plumbed the depths of Pornography-era Cure. The slowly building If You Were Born Today ached in the church surroundings, pulling at heartstrings while quieter moments such as the Mimi Parker-sung One Special Gift and Silent Night were so hushed it ratcheted up the tension even more. Not only are these fine Christmas songs, but fine songs in their own right, performed wonderfully.
After a brief pause they returned to play some ‘non-Christmas’ songs, overcoming sound problems on Congregation to deliver spellbinding versions of the shimmering Holy Ghost, featuring an extraordinary vocal from Parker, and an intense Murderer, Sparhawk stopping the latter to threaten: “oh you like that? I got LOTS of that stuff…” Their songs take their time to unfurl, allowing the band to show an admirable grasp of dynamics and control. So it proved with this set, climaxing with a stretched out, heavy Landslide, allowing Sparhawk to let loose on guitar, complete with random body twitches, before finishing with the newly released soulful Some Hearts, a return to a Christmas theme.
These are really quite special songs and it was quite a treat to hear them played in Christchurch Cathedral. One of the most unique gigs of this, or any other year, from one of the finest bands around.
Long Way Around the Sea
The Little Drummer Boy
Last Snowstorm of the Year
Taking Down the Tree
On Christmas Day
Santa’s Coming Over
If You Were Born Today
One Special Gift
Just Like Christmas
Some Hearts (At Christmas Time)