Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Low Anthem Oran Mor 7th April 2011

I first saw the Low Anthem perform at the Old Fruitmarket during Celtic Connection Festival Glasgow 2010 - where they played their many instruments, performed their melodic songs, and sang their finely-tuned harmonies with a contemporary American country feel. Their sound ranged from subtle soft lows to a big crashing wall of sound, and lead singer Ben Miller took his voice from sweet to harsh. So tonight I expected another great concert and I was not disappointed.

The concert was held in the Oran Mor Church auditorium with it's coloured stain glass and high ceiling gallery. American band 'Head an Heart' were the support and they had fun as they performed their strong harmonies and quality songs. 

The Low Anthem set their stage for intimacy and arranged their instruments in a circle with an open area in the middle.  I noticed that they had set a vase with 2 daffodils and a glass of Rose wine on top of a small wooden organ which gave relaxed ambience to the stage.  The band began their set in a close circle around an old radio-style microphone, and with only their soothing voices and guitar they brought a hush to the crowded hall.

On their next song they added two clarinets and a tuba to the mix, and they suggested to the audience that we all joined in towards the end of this song by turning on our mobile phones and calling a friend - which then created an eerie prolonged echo throughout the hall.  Their first ten songs were gentle and mellow, after which we were more than ready for them to take the tempo up - which they did by playing three guitars, drums and electric bass which produced a big wall of sound. 

They played some of their well-known songs from their third album - 'Charlie Darwin,' 'The Ghosts Who Write History Books' and then the crowd sang along enthusiastically to their song 'Way To Ohio' after which Ben remarked that he thought he heard a 'Glasgow Emma-Lou Harris' in the third row! 

As the band mixed their instruments they were able to give each song a different texture - from mellow to harsh, vibrant to poignant - sometimes the texture of wood, sometimes full on brass. Some songs had singing saw, double bass, harmonica, fiddle and a small wooden organ pumped by foot pedals.  Other songs had a brassier sound with trumpet and tuba added. There were unusual touches too - such as bowing the banjo. Their harmonies were close, intimate and often poignant, while their lead singer Ben Miller sang with a soaring, gripping high falsetto, alongside his acoustic guitar.  

The audiences response was strong and the band were called back for an encore song - when they sang 'Smart Flesh' from their new release.  As they sang 'Oh My God' from their song 'Charlie Darwin' in the old church hall and as their pure voices soared above us, it did all feel spiritual and renewing. 

Their songs were full of movement and stories, as well as being haunting, meaningful and intelligent. They mix the best of several musical influences but keep it true with strong melodies. 

This low key American indie folk band are from Rhode Island, and they consist of multi-instrumentalists Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky, Jocie Adams and Mat Davidson. The band gained attention for their third studio album, 'Oh my God Charlie Darwin' in 2009, and released their fourth studio album 'Smart Flesh' in 2011.