Have you ever laid on the ground and felt guitar buzz through you? Maybe you’ve attended a 28-hour Drone Not Drones show at the Cedar. Maybe you’ve taken a nap in a tour van’s backseat. Maybe you attended Square Lake Festival in Stillwater this year, soaking up Low’s heavenly new album Hey What through earthly vibrations.
Duluth legends Low headlined and curated Square Lake Festival this year, performing Hey What from front to back two nights in a row. On Friday, they brought along Duluth violinist Gaelynn Lea and Austin rock band Lord Friday the 13th. On Saturday, Lord Friday returned, along with Joe Rainey Sr., a powerful singer who has collaborated with Bon Iver and the Roots’ Black Thought. Each night, about 250 people rolled up to organizer Paul Creager’s family farm, spreading blankets and kicking back.
On Saturday, Rainey welcomed the crowd with “an honor song for Mr. Alan from Low.” He beat a drum and sang to polite applause. As he finished, members of Lord Friday the 13th strode behind him and picked up their instruments.
“This is murder music,” vocalist Felix Lenz exclaimed at the top of Lord Friday the 13th’s set. Well, it was “Murder Music,” actually — the first of many trashy punk songs from the Austin band. Felix Lenz, guitarist Sloane Lenz, bassist Benjamin Missworld Violet, and drummer Andy Nixon performed 35 minutes of music about vomiting, late-stage capitalism, and crushes’ attractive faces: everything a 20-something (in age or at heart) needs to worry about. “Good children,” Sparhawk called them later. Just picture an occultist Kesha singing “Gold Trans Am” with Elvis vibrato at South by Southwest.
Next up, Rainey returned to the stage to perform original material with Twin Cities producer Andrew Broder. Rainey hasn’t released any solo music yet, so it was intriguing to hear what he’s been working on: a vortex of rich vocals, ominous sounds, and drum group samples from his vast recording archive. At one point, the beat sounded like a movie shipwreck — I thought I heard cracking wooden beams. Then, a row of thick wire hangers seemed to clang together. Then: a sandstorm, with grit swirling in the wind. Rainey barely spoke to the audience and scooted off stage before the music dwindled. The audience rewarded his and Broder’s experimentation with a long round of applause and eager murmuring.
A breeze blew at my neck as Low cranked up their instruments, and a cooking fire flared underneath Icehouse’s catering tent. Ok, thinning of the veil. I shivered and settled in, drawn to Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk’s somber voices on a dark fall night.
Low’s new songs are like swells from the gnarliest, coldest deep — they rise, roar, and fall, spray glistening in the wind. (No surprise that Sparhawk and Parker live on a hill above Lake Superior.) After they played “Days Like These,” Sparhawk thanked the audience for meeting them at Square Lake on “neutral ground,” removed from our houses and ordinary haunts. Only crickets dared interrupt the silence.
After Hey What, Low’s reverse-chronological setlist led us through broken, tender Double Negative and Ones and Sixes cuts. The band brought out Paul Creager and his parents, who live in the house above the stage, and thanked them. Then, Parker, Sparhawk, and bassist Liz Draper closed with “Sunflower” and a screening of the new “White Horses” music video.
Normally, Square Lake hosts cyclists and other campers for the weekend. They pitch tents on the lawn and party in the painted barn. But the event was scaled down this year. Night owls were welcome to watch Jaws and eat popcorn after Low, but most folks packed up their lawn chairs and headed off into the cool night.
Low setlist (Saturday, Sept. 11)
White Horses (Hey What, 2021)
I Can Wait (Hey What, 2021)
All Night (Hey What, 2021)
Disappearing (Hey What, 2021)
Hey (Hey What, 2021)
Days Like These (Hey What, 2021)
There’s A Comma After Still (Hey What, 2021)
Don’t Walk Away (Hey What, 2021)
More (Hey What, 2021)
The Price You Pay (It Must Be Wearing Off) (Hey What, 2021)
Always Up (Double Negative, 2018)
Poor Sucker (Double Negative, 2018)
Disarray (Double Negative, 2018)
What Part Of Me (Ones and Sixes, 2015)
No Comprende (Ones and Sixes, 2015)
Monkey (The Great Destroyer, 2005)
Sunflower (Things We Lost in the Fire, 2001)
(Friday setlist available here.)
Joe Rainey Sr. welcome
Lord Friday the 13th
Joe Rainey Sr.