Half of The Low Anthem’s music sounds like it should be performed in a dusty, creaking old church; the other half seems to belong on stage at a rowdy dive bar. Both halves sounded great Monday night at Seattle’s The Triple Door, where the band was opened for by former member Dan Lefkowitz.
The occasion also marked the first time the band played a cafeteria, according to frontman Ben Knox Miller, not too impressed with the venue’s full dinner service. The Triple Door is a beautiful club, and it’s nice to have the option of eating a meal, but the clank of forks, knives and dinnerware isn’t exactly ideal musical accompaniment, especially for the sparser Low Anthem songs.
Still, the band pushed ahead, delivering a set that showcased the majority of its February release, Smart Flesh, while leaving plenty of room for tracks from 2008’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin and a few that go back further, like staple “This God Damn House,” written and performed by Lefkowitz.
The Low Anthem has a reputation for simple, straightforward music, with its Americana-tinged tunes hearkening back to humbler times. That’s not an inaccurate description, nor should it be considered derisive. The spare guitar and delicate harmonies on a song like “Charlie Darwin” or Monday’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire” are absolutely sublime. But the description is also a little reductive, and misses an entire element of the band’s live performance.
The Low Anthem is capable of producing highly intricate soundscapes, especially in the interludes between songs, and the noisy confluence of instruments both common and not so common—guitars, upright bass, clarinet, musical saw, and bowed crotales—is more reminiscent of an ambient band than just a simple folk tune.
There’s also a sense of warm collaboration between members, who swap instruments between nearly every song—even during these more intricate moments, the music is anything but cold and calculated. And then there are the foot-stomping barnburners, like “Boeing 737” off Smart Flesh and the Tom Waits cover “Home I’ll Never Be” from Charlie Darwin. Stacking up the band’s varied approaches next to one another, it’s pretty clear The Low Anthem is hardly just another troupe of sensitive indie folkies.
Monday’s show came near the tail end of a three-month tour promoting the new record—the band’s last show ever in America, Miller joked—but there was no air of fatigue hanging over the set, even if the band members felt it. Impeccable musicianship, whether on spare, wispy ballads or harmonica-laden rockers, makes The Low Anthem a live act not to be missed.