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Low give smoldering Fitz performance backed by members of Trampled by Turtles

Low and members of Trampled by Turtles shared the stage at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater last year. Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR.

 

See also: Audio and video from Low’s Current Session at the Fitz 

Low are minimalists in every sense of the word. Every note, every rise and fall in dynamic, every snippet of between-song banter is intentional, and measured.

It seems counter-intuitive to toss out too many adverbs about Low’s poignant show at the Fitzgerald Theater on Saturday night, where they performed with three-fifths of Trampled by Turtles (bassist Tim Saxhaug, banjo player Dave Carroll, and violinist Ryan Young). Instead, I’ll bite my tongue on the superlatives and stick to highlighting a few of the most surprising elements of their smoldering two-hour performance.

“Many have said that The Invisible Way is Low’s best album to date,” host Mark Wheat mentioned at the top of the night in his introduction of the group. “How many bands who have been around for 20 years can say they are releasing their best work to date? Seriously!”

It was an important question to raise, and it highlighted yet another way that Low are not like most other bands. Frontman Alan Sparhawk and wife and drummer Mimi Parker have taken a steadfast approach to creating their art. While many modern bands struggle to stay in the spotlight for more than a few moments at a time, Low have eschewed the buzz game all together; they’ve managed to ride at the same level of success for so many years that it has started to feel like they’ve simply always been there, and always will be, regardless of what other trends come and go.

In that way, the struggle for Low is not to keep people’s attention, but rather to avoid having their presence taken for granted. They ought to be treasured as an institution at this point, and they were certainly regarded as such on Saturday night.

The Fitz was an ideal setting for the performance—I can’t imagine trying to stand up or push through a chatty crowd while absorbing such hefty songs—and Sparhawk noted his appreciation for the space. “My father called me five minutes before we went on to congratulate me on playing the Fitzgerald Theater,” he remarked, grinning slyly. “I think he saw a radio show here a couple times.”

Beyond that, not much else was said. Instead, Sparhawk, Parker, and their Low bandmate Steve Garrington—who stuck to playing piano for the majority of the evening—let the songs speak for themselves, first playing 10 of the 11 tracks on their new The Invisible Way and then delving into a set of songs that stretched all the way back to their earliest days as a group.

The Trampled by Turtles members’ contributions were subtle at first, settling into the songs like a soft rainfall with subliminally audible banjo and string parts. But as the expanded group became more comfortable on stage, the road ahead of them grew wider and wider; for The Invisible Way‘s noisiest track, “On My Own,” the septet built into such an intense crescendo that it burned off most of the slow-burning tension from the first half of the set. It was hard not to get chills. And all the while, dramatic footage of men jumping out of prop planes, bounding atop half-built bridges, and flying through the air in slow motion looped behind the band on a projection screen, further accentuating the pensive nature of the evening.

After an intermission, the band returned for a brief interview, and Mark Wheat uncovered a few revelations in that brief conversation. In a moment of raw honesty, Parker said that she still felt “shaky” about singing lead vocals and playing the drums simultaneously on stage (though you’d never know it from her performance). And when Mark Wheat asked Sparhawk to introduce their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” and explain the story behind it, and Sparhawk shook his head and said he couldn’t—and though it felt awkward at the time, that moment of silence carried far more weight than all the other interview questions that came before it.

Wheat explained that the last time they had covered “Fearless” in his presence was the day Senator Paul Wellstone died. Sparhawk was speechless, and their subsequent rendition of the song was transcendent. “I’m sorry to leave you hanging there, Mark. But… you know,” Sparhawk said after they finished the cover. The crowd did know, and respectfully applauded his stoic tribute.

The remainder of the evening was a longtime Low fan’s dream set list. One after another, their earlier songs kept coming: “Dinosaur Act” was followed quickly by the sizzling “Sunflower” and explosive “Pissing.” After another one-two punch—the more recent “Murderer” and fan favorite “When I Go Deaf”—the audience leapt to its feet, giving the group its first of two standing ovations. And when they returned for a two-song encore, the audience still didn’t seem to want to let them leave. Luckily, Sparhawk announced they’d be back in the Twin Cities for more events (yes, plural) before the year is through.

Low’s Current Session at the Fitz set list:

Plastic Cup
Waiting
Holy Ghost
Clarence White
So Blue
Four Score
Mother
On My Own
To Our Knees
Just Make it Stop

Fearless (Pink Floyd cover)
Dinosaur Act
Sunflower
Pissing
Words
Last Snowstorm of the Year
In the Drugs
Especially Me
Murderer
When I Go Deaf

Monkey
I Hear…

The Current Sessions at the Fitz with Low will be broadcast on 89.3 the Current on Wednesday, April 3 at 9 p.m. Stream the session and watch videos from the show here.

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    Low's Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk (Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR)
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