The Low Anthem - The Bootleg Theatre, Los Angeles, CA - 3/25/10
The Bootleg Theatre is a storefront with plywood-lined walls and a slightly raised stage in an out-of-the-way Los Angeles neighborhood. Its no-frills, pretension-less appearance was a perfect compliment to the evening's music.
Opening was Timber Timbre from Canada, which found singer-songwriter Taylor Kirk, playing a reverb-heavy guitar and keeping rhythm with his foot on bass drum, accompanied by violinist Mika Posen and Simon Trottier, who alternated between slide guitar and autoharp. After tuning up, they went right into the first song without any segue and played for about 35 minutes. Not knowing any of the material, the lyrics were rather tough to make out, but the music was interesting. Kirk sang over blues riffs augmented by arrangements that brought to mind spooky carnivals and broken-down calliopes. Every song blended into the next with slight variation, so the listener likely enjoyed it all or none of it.
Other than the song "Charlie Darwin," The Low Anthem's music was also equally unknown to me. The band is a quartet of multi-instrumentalists (Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky, Jocie Adams, and Mat Davidson) playing neo-traditional folk. After every song, they grabbed different instruments and took up different positions on stage. Although "different instruments" doesn't do the band's scope justice, because at any time throughout the evening someone might be playing a WWI portable pump organ, a harmonium, a gut-strung parlor axe, a nipple gong, crotales, and even a rusty saw.
Over the course of their hour-long set, many of the songs were similar as Miller's melancholic vocals were backed by acoustic arrangements. They played selections off both their albums and introduced a couple of new songs. The music was simple, straightforward, and competently played. Prystowsky's work on stand-up bass was the only demonstration of virtuosity. Their performance had an extremely loose feel, and I wondered if there had been a sound check considering the few, albeit brief, technical issues. Although very enjoyable, a more dynamic setlist would have been greatly appreciated in conjunction with the 11:30pm start time in the seatless theatre.
Not to say there weren't moments of high energy. After "Charlie Darwin," they plugged in for a raucous bit of rock 'n' roll on a cover of Jack Kerouac & Tom Waits' "Home I'll Never Be." During former band-member Dan Lefkowitz' "This God Damn House," Miller got the audience in on the act by suggesting they call the person next to them and place the call on speaker to create feedback. It sounded great and created a very cool moment.
There was also the unplanned incident during the second song of the set. As the band softly harmonized around one mike while Miller strummed a guitar, they were drowned out by drunken young man, who didn't appreciate what he was hearing, squabbling with another patron. Miller stepped to the front of the stage and offered a suggestion that caused the young man to leave.
The Low Anthem are a band to follow as their music takes the listener down a path less traveled by, using old ideas and instruments to create something new and fresh. Their sincerity is palpable and their music is inviting. See them when they come to your town.