Heading down to Chicago for the Pitchfork Music Festival last weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder how Low would use their time on stage. As far as I know, it was their first major festival appearance since Rock the Garden last month, where they delivered a 27-minute, droning rendition of “Do You Know How to Waltz?” While that performance got a little blowback from unsuspecting Rock the Garden attendees who were hoping to sing along to “Just Make it Stop,” it also seemed to intensify longtime Low fans’ feelings about the band, reminding them of earlier days when it was actually quite common for them to stretch out songs into 15 or 20 minute explorations. So how would Low proceed? And would people be disappointed if they didn’t drone?
Well it didn’t take long for the band to reveal that they came to Pitchfork to tout their new album, The Invisible Way—and what a beautiful showcase it was. Sandwiched between sets by the Breeders and Solange, they played to a quiet corner of the crowd on a stage that was tucked under a grove of trees. “Greetings from Lake Superior!” lead singer Alan Sparhawk proclaimed, and after ripping off about a minute of piercing feedback, the band launched into a fuzzed-out, heavy rendition of “Clarence White” that was quite similar to their City of Music performance that was released last month. They followed it up with more new songs (“Plastic Cup,” “On My Own,” “Holy Ghost,” and “Just Make it Stop”) and mixed in a few older ones like “Monkey” and “Pissing.” And then something truly surprising happened.
“I hope you’ll take this as our humble gift to you and this festival,” Sparhawk said, and signaled to keyboardist Steve Garrington to begin playing a familiar, hymn-like progression of chords. It didn’t take long for the audience to realize that the band was about to cover Rihanna’s current chart-topping hit, “Stay,” and after a brief false start Mimi Parker led the band through a wrenching performance of the song. And you know what? The cover was so convincing that it ended up being one of my favorite moments of the entire festival.
Well played, Low.