Even a band as composed as Low must have rubbed hands with excitement at the prospect of playing a cathedral in downtown Kilkenny. The furrow they have tilled is entirely their own; telekinetic harmonies, distortion without sounding metallic; dark to light and back again, all within the blood-red lyrical themes that colour their glacial folk-rock. The Mormon husband and wife team of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker have never knowingly rubbed creed in their audience’s faces – no one wants to ever see the words -Christian’ and -rock’ fraternising. When they recorded 2002’s sinisterly shimmering Trust in a church in their local Duluth, Minnesota, the somewhat unprecedented sonic results were all that ever mattered. The same is true tonight.
St. Canice’s becomes an unofficial fourth member for the evening, catalysing the tone with a spiritual bent. The chiming, sparse guitar and gentle quaking percussion of Sparhawk and Parker soar among the rafters and resound throughout the high gothic expanses of the 13th Century building. I duck around to the very back of the great hall for -Amazing Grace (That’s How You Sing)’ to sample the full effect, and the whole breadth of the interior seems to tingle and throb without moving.
You didn’t, however, need to be back there to feel it. It was omnipresent. It is there in the spaces in between sounds that Low have always exploited. And so it is with the warm plink-plonk rhythm and gorgeous vocal harmony of -Dragonfly’ or the surging squall of noise teased out during the climax of -When I Go Deaf’. It becomes clear very soon that Sparhawk is a singular guitar talent. He creates a space to breath in each arrangement, a soundscape by merely thumbing a few strings through a couple of pedals and a whammy bar. He never disguises that rasp as his fingers change frets. Before you can say one-man-Mogwai, he is wrestling with a euphoric spree of controlled chaos, at one point breaking a string and mending it without allowing silence to settle.
It now remains to be seen if the organisers of Kilkenny Arts Festival can find anything to match this by the time next summer rolls around.