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The Low Anthem: dynamic and unconventional

Last night The Low Anthem played a strong set at Canopy Club featuring a wandering set full of folk-inspired tunes that ranged from slow wandering love songs to raucous distorted jams. They joined us here in Champaign-Urbana while taking a break from a long tour throughout Canada in support of City and Colour. City and Colour features Dallas Green from Alexisonfire who just broke up within the year, not to mention he is Canadian himself, so this was a much smaller night for the seasoned multi-instrumentalists that make up the group.

They started the night with two softer songs off of their second album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin featuring front man Ben Know Miller on a small antique pump organ that really grabbed my attention right off the bat. There is something so charming about the full sound of the organ that has always moved me. This was a beautiful instrument as well. Hand carved, well maintained, and a very rich tone.

I knew going in that the band featured a slew of instruments, but I had no idea their live show was going to incorporate as many as they did. Throughout the night I made a list of these not-so-typical ones: banjo, clarinet, hammer dulcimer, saw, pump organ, trumpet, harmonica, and I am sure I am missing a few more. It is one thing to play so many instruments, but what is so impressive is the way these seemingly random sounds fit so well together.

One thing that did trouble me about this show is actually one of the things that I enjoyed the most about their latest album, Smart Flesh: the dynamics. As I mentioned, they began the night with a pairing of soft tunes featuring the pump organ that really got the audience settled in and all ears. What developed was a disjointed flow of songs that really kept me guessing whether I was in for another delicate folk song or a dissonant jam.

I think part of my complaint stems from the fact that this show was very under-attended. There is an energy that fills a room whenever a band playing a more delicate piece of music captures everyone’s attention and leaves a once chattering mess completely calm. That quiet energy that builds in the attentive crowd translates very well into louder tunes that let everyone let their hair down once again. A show like that, one where everyone is straining in anticipation of the next dynamic shift, can blow you away. I get the sense a lot of their stage presence is built around this idea; that just couldn’t happen last night within the sparse crowd at Canopy.

There was one nice moment last night where the band did ask the crowd to do something I had never seen before. The band uses cell phones to create a really interesting layer of feedback throughout their song “This God Damned House.” They get this sound, which comes across like a room full of crickets, by putting two phones on speaker while they are in contact with one another. They invited the crowd to get in on the cell phone layer to the song and it made for one of the more charming moments of the evening.

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