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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sometimes You Just Have to Try Something New
or my afternoon with The Low Anthem

Okay, so I think of myself as having relatively eclectic taste in music. I run the genre between rock, pop, 40's (Dino to Cab Calloway), world, alt rock, alt country, singer songwriter...etc. But I'm ashamed to say that I rarely venture out to listen to a band with whom I'm unfamiliar.

This afternoon I decided to throw caution to the wind, stick my big toe outside of my cushy, musical comfort box, and head off to our public radio station for a free in-studio session of the relatively unknown-to-me group, The Low Anthem.

I know. I'm a rebel. You can't stop me.

Anywho, my past experience with this group is this: I've heard the name...probably heard a song played on the outstanding WYEP...but cannot connect the dots to save my life. I walked in the door (barely on time because parking is INSANE in the South Side! I was blocks and blocks away! There is like NO parking there! You can tell how exasperating it is to me by my excessive use of !!!) with an open mind and absolutely no expectations.

You know wasn't the least bit painful. I mean, okay, it wasn't the most uplifting music I've ever heard. Nor was it the most energetic performance ever witnessed, but they were...interesting.

First off they played a random selection of traditional and unorthodox instruments. First couple songs included a rhythm guitar, upright bass and a clarinet mournfully played by the lone female of the group. Then they started pulling out the weird old pump organ they restored, an ancient, flat-ish tuba and a Crotales.

That was the oddest thing I've ever seen. According to Wikipedia, they are antique cymbals which can be played by striking the plates or bowing. Our lass chose the bow, resulting in quite the lovely, sorrowful sound.

Then for the ending of one song (I can't remember which), the singer, Jeff pulled out two cell phones set on speaker to create a whistling sound. That was pretty cool. All of these oddball elements resulted in a unique musical quality.

The thing that struck me as I observed these youngsters, was the difference in each member's stage presence. The bass/pump organ player was bedecked in his jazzy black hat, longer hair and made eye contact with the small crowd as he bopped around slightly to the beat of his upright.

The singer/guitar/horn/cell phone player stood stone still, head lowered, hair dangling over his down-cast eyes and rarely made contact with the onlookers even when answering questions from the host.

The girl...aaah, the girl was interesting. She had long blonde hair pushed to one side, waif-like. When she played the Crotales and especially the clarinet, she made up for all the non-movement of the other two. She would sort of prance in place, horse-like to a strange inner rhythm not played out in the song. And she never opened her eyes while singing or playing the clarinet.

Peculiar, but not unexpected. They're just babies really. They lack the confidence of seasoned performers and haven't quite figured out how they want to project themselves to the public. However, they were all very nice at the meet and greet. Humble without attitude.

Did I like The Low Anthem. Not really. Not at this point in their very young history anyway. Their music lacks the variety, the energy and punch which make me hot for a band. It all sounded a little too similar and doleful. But they're just pups, and have a long way to grow. Hopefully in a few years, their sound will be as compelling as their instrument choices.

Here's a clip from YouTube:

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