- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2001

Low brought its brand of unadorned beautiful music before a good-size but distracted Black Cat audience Feb. 20.

The Duluth, Minn., trio of guitarist-vocalist Alan Sparhawk, percussionist-vocalist Mimi Parker and bassist Zak Sally is touring in support of its exceptional new album, "Things We Lost in the Fire," which was released earlier this month. The band mostly focused on songs from the new album and songs off 1999's critically acclaimed "Secret Name," in the process confirming that the last two albums have captured a group at its creative peak.

Low's slow, "minimalist" music relies on time and space to achieve maximum impact. However, the slow pace of the band's songs never seems forced or artificial, but rather has a pulse and flow heavily dependent on tension and release.

The band itself eschews the minimalist label, preferring to think of its music as "essentialist," stripping away any note, chord or vocal not vital to the song itself. At the top of the list of essentials, certainly, is the vocal interplay between Mr. Sparhawk and Miss Parker, who also are husband and wife.

Songs such as "Starfire," from "Secret Name," and "Whore," from "Things We Lost in the Fire," showcased how crucial these two voices are to the Low sound. In "Starfire," Miss Parker's subtle backup vocals played catch-up to Mr. Sparhawk's soaring lead until the two voices melted together almost imperceptibly into a crashing la-la-la-la chorus at the end. "Whore," a lovely, moving song despite its name, kept the two vocals apart. The result was as captivating onstage as it is on the album.

The lyrics reveal a spiritual side to Low, evident throughout its music. While it seems a bit much to call the trio a Christian band, its songs are undeniably informed by a Christian experience, but in a very human (as opposed to preachy) way. Mr. Sparhawk and Miss Parker are both Mormons; Mr. Sally says he is not religious.

Above all, Low's best songs have life, something flesh and bone that prevents the simplicity from ever being described as precious or delicate. Miss Parker's evocative delivery of the song "Laser Beam," a hauntingly beautiful plea for grace almost unaccompanied by music, wafted over the crowd like incense, heavy yet ethereal at the same time. Similarly, her vocals on "In Metal," a somewhat quicker-paced song that manages to pass for jaunty for this band, best reflected the warmth evident in Low's most recent albums.

The song, an ode to Mr. Sparhawk and Miss Parker's new baby, engulfs the listener as a parent does a young child, with Miss Parker's maternal vocals capturing this spirit blissfully: "Partly hate to see you grow/And just like your baby shoes/Wish I could keep your little body/In metal."

A recent review of "Things We Lost in the Fire" by the British music magazine NME gave a great description of the band:, "Low have always sought to make music that can both swell the heart like a gospel tune and capture the amplified absence of a funeral parlour."

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