SXSW 2018: Low provide sanctuary from festival chaos — mostly

Even on the Tuesday of SXSW, it’s easy to get already overwhelmed by the chaos of chatter, lines, and clashing smells of street food. You would think a church would be as good of sanctuary as any, especially with St. David’s Church hosting Duluth, Minn. group Low.

Low, from Minnesota, perform at St. David’s Church. (Andy O’Connor / for American-Statesman)

Mere seconds into their set, a barrage of horns came in, and Low doesn’t have a horn section. Someone forgot to put their phone on silent. Even in a church, we were not free from the outside madness creeping in. The audience laughed it off, proving that fans of very serious, very sad music aren’t humorless in the least. Or that SXSW hadn’t totally crushed their souls yet.

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That hiccup aside, their performance was sublime, an early contender for one of the most special performances of the week. Befitting the church setting, Low stripped their already minimalist arrangement down to just organ and vocals — no drums, no guitars. Low’s core, vocalists Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, stood at the podium and soared over low, soft drones. Even with a confident and authoritative pose, they were a balm, becoming one with the ambient organ. Not only did they seem unbothered by the early disturbance, they rose above it. The music demanded focus, yet the room allowed for space and meditation. For so little input, there was a lot going on inside the church.

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Low’s music has been thrown in with the “slowcore” movement from the 90s for its downbeat and downtrodden nature, but this didn’t feel dour. This was not their usual setup, yet it made the church feel even smaller and intimate than it already was. For a little while, it felt like a room to ourselves, not part of the moving and shuffling going on in the streets. Low provided a dreamy, comforting isolation.

“Peace be with you” were Sparhawk’s last words to the crowd. We’ll need all the peace we can get over the next few days.

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