I think The Low Anthem played Bowery Ballroom in New York City Monday night. What I mean is, so modest, muted, soft and translucent is their music, it’s barely there. It’s like mist, or or like an apparition late into the night. It feels dreamy. Which is also to say, it’s hauntingly, sparsely gorgeous.
All the more so when performed live, as band members Ben Knox Miller, Jocie Adams and Jeff Prystowsky — I am loathe to attach instruments to their names, as over the course of the evening each dutifully and beautifully played virtually every one of them that sat onstage, from clarinet to drums, electric bass to upright bass — create an aura of pensive, pristine, earthy joyousness. “To The Ghosts that Write History Books,” one of many songs off their recently re-released album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin and their second number of the set, felt both uplifting and funereal. Same went for their next one, “This Goddamn House,” penned by band-friend Dan Lefkowitz and very Elvis Perkins-sounding in execution (that may be no coincidence at all, as both bands were borne out of Brown University) until its very end, when Miller whistled the song’s final mournful notes into a pair of cell phones that were on a connection with one another, adding an otherworldly, decidedly non-folk feel.
It took until about the sixth song for The Low Anthem to muster up a beat, but when it did, with an amped-up, hip-swinging, rollicking, electricfied cover of Tom Waits’ “Home I’ll Never Be,” the crowd reacted feverishly. If there is something problematic about The Low Anthem, it’s that the group plays odd music to go out and see. You don’t rock out to this stuff; you don’t even really sway to it, or even necessarily smile. But it does help that the band members are clearly enjoying themselves — even if Miller’s the only one who ever really says a word.
“The record is a bit obsessed with Charles Darwin,” was one thing Miller said towards the end of their set. Hopefully that means that the band will only continue to evolve, and to prove as life-affirming as they were Monday night.