If less is more, Low is the most. It would be simplistic to call the Duluth, Minn.-bred band’s approach minimalism, but it would be more appropriate to call it “essentialism.” Nothing is missing from the trio’s sound, but all the stage lighting, snare drums, ornate lyrics are stripped away, leaving a dramatic starkness, a constantly building tension that’s subtly overpowering.
At this off-the-beaten-path gig — a benefit for the arthouse-cum-rare-film treasury that played host to the show — Low took the stage in almost total darkness and crept into “I Remember,” a sepulchral song anchored by Mimi Parker’s heartbeat-like single-drum pulse. The mood was intensified when Parker stepped to the microphone on the millennial lament “Two-Step,” accentuating primary vocalist Alan Sparhawk’s melody line with her sighing harmonies.
There’s an almost monastic intensity to Low’s live show, with the three members gathered in a close circle, figuratively prying glacial notes from each other. That dimension is amplified by Sparhawk’s high, pure, almost churchy voice and the spare, spiritually infused lyrics of songs such as “Lion/Lamb” and the Parker-sung “Weight of Water.”
While the trio’s steadfast refusal to supply release in rock’s time-tested tension/release dichotomy may sound frustrating, in practice, it’s quite satisfying. Zak Sally supplies some color to songs like “Days of … ” by swapping his bass for an ethereally droning harmonium; Parker augments her tiny drum kit with a variety of cymbals chosen with precision. The result is more dramatic than any special effects-dependent arena perf.
Low will perform Oct. 2 at the Troubadour.