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Middle East, Cambridge, MA
Tuesday, 29 September 1998
with Ida, Jessica Baliff

Review #1 | Review #2 | Review #3

Well, Tim Miller was kind enough to drive down from Burlington and give me, and several of my friends including fellow list member Scott (ScottAAEA@aol.com), a ride to the show. We got to the Middle East early, and having nothing else to do were permitted to enterprisingly sneak into the soundcheck, where we saw Alan and possibly Mimi soundchecking with Jessica Bailiff -- but we were almost immediately shooed out by Y-Mike (I believe). Oh, well...

So after that, about ten of us, among whom were six list members, got together for dinner at the Middle East about an hour before the doors, and then went to the show immediately after, and were pretty much the first ones into what became an absolutely packed (read: swelteringly claustrophobic ;-) house.

First up was Jessica Bailiff. Her stuff didn't really click for me; unfortunately, her vocals were mixed far too low to make out anything she was saying, and that made it hard to get emotionally involved in her set. When Low came on for a couple songs to take over as her backing band, however, things kicked up about three notches; it was very interesting to see the gang...well, rock out.

Then came Ida, delivering an excellent and lengthy (50-55 min.) set. I'm not a hardcore Ida buff, though I do like them a lot, so I only know a few of the names of the songs they played -- "Walk Away Renee", which was charming, and "Maybelle", which was good too -- but I recognized a few of the tunes they played from last year's Middle East show, including one I remember really, really liking (but still don't know the name of), for which Alan came on stage and played melodica. Immediately after that, Alan stayed up there, Ida made a relatively rapid change of instruments, their drummer grabbed the lead vocal mic, and suddenly they kicked into an electrifying and hilarious cover of the Prince song "Uptown", with Alan on shaker and backing vocals! I don't know if they do this often, though it sounded reasonably well-rehearsed...but in any event, everyone went pretty nuts.

"Uptown" closed out Ida's set and on came Low. Their setlist was something like:

- Lord, Can You Hear Me? (with 3/5 of Ida, billed as the "Retribution Gospel Choir")
- Immune
- Coattails
- Words
- Two-Step
- ??? (new song)
- Starfire
- Born by the Wires
- Will the Night (w/ Ida's violinist)

I'm not sure off the top of my head exactly which song was "Two-Step", though I remember one of the lines cited earlier -- either "and the light, it burns your skin / in a language you don't understand" and "are you a lion or a lamb?" -- as being in it, as well as the words "Two-Step".

As you can see, Low played a very short set (compare this with the Bowery Ballroom setlist!). Right before Will the Night Alan asked if they had time for one or two more, and then announced that they'd be cutting matters short because of the 12:30 curfew, which they'd already apparently passed...so as a consequence of Ida's great set, we got a very brief Low set, which I think was actually shorter than Ida's. (Wisely, but sadly, the crowd didn't even attempt to get an encore!)

How was it? Well, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the fact that I had never heard a full third of their setlist, and that they played only two pre-Pilot songs (though that was probably mainly a consequence of the curfew, unfortunately), put a serious damper on things, and it's thus hard to evaluate their performance based on that. Plus, on top of the cramped quarters, there was a little audience noise and background noise throughout the show -- not too much, but enough to occasionally distract. Furthermore, technically speaking, they played quite well, with LCYHM? and especially Starfire sticking out as especially "well-performed" songs.

But, I have to be a dissenting voice amidst the crew that went (all of whom seemed to love it), and say that overall, despite the fun I had, I was a little disappointed. There was something missing for me, something I find hard to quantify...but let me put it this way: Coattails is my favorite Low live song, hands down, and when they kicked into it, my knees practically went out from under me. But about a minute into it, I knew something didn't feel quite right. Maybe it was the people (a handful, admittedly) talking in the back, or maybe it was the Small Stone Alan used on his guitar on the quiet parts...but something felt more fundamentally off. I didn't feel Low's subtlety and understatement, or their delicacy, nearly as much as I had in the past, live and on record...and that made me sad. I hope that it was just some weird synergy of the sound, and the atmosphere, and the crowd/background noise, and not symptomatic of something likely to keep happening. (On the way home I even started speculating about whether Low would be breaking up soon. I still think that's very possible, but perhaps my concern was premature...still, see them while you can, folks, because they could break up any time now.)

The good parts, though, _were_ good. Lord etc. was engrossing, and Starfire was much more assured than it was last year (overall, Alan looked looser and more relaxed on stage than I've ever seen him). Immune is a real killer of a new song, and I've had it stuck in my head since the show; Two-Step is promising, too, and most of us already know how good Starfire is! On the whole, judging from what I've heard, Low's new songs are heading towards something I can only characterize as Long Division filtered through Songs For a Dead Pilot. (Alan jestingly said they were trying to put the "oohs" back in their music.)

Immune, for instance, sounds perhaps like the strange daughter of Violence (or Peanut Butter Toast & AB) and Condescend -- it's got a weird mix of ingenuousness and near-cynicism, adding up to a very irresistible song. Two-Step is harder to describe, but was equally...lilting?...and, as I recall, featured alternate refrains sung by Alan and Mimi separately, which was novel and quite charming. If your favorites are songs like Words and Violence, then you're definitely in for a treat with the new material, I suspect -- as long as you don't mind the strange weariness, almost irony, that's melded with these melodic, even poppy, new songs. (In fact, now that I think about it, a lot of these new songs seem to be very much musically and spiritually akin to Words.) I also have a feeling, if the Random Radio version of Immune is any indicator (and the Random Radio disc is HEARTILY recommended by yours truly, by the way), that we're going to see really good studio versions of these new songs, because they sure do seem to record well.

A funny moment: before 'Born by the Wires', Alan solicited requests, asking if there was anything anyone really wanted to hear. Amidst the ensuing tumult, the smiling, no-chance-in-hell look Tim Miller and I got from Zak when we called out 'Standby!' repeatedly was priceless. When someone later called out "Play the slow one!", Mimi asked "Who's the wiseguy?" and then as I recall told us they were "ready to fight".

(After the show, Zak told me that "Standby" was off-limits because they hadn't played it in so long that they would probably have screwed it up. He also, when I asked what songs they'd never played live, cited "Lift" as another impossibility...which was another song I'd called out. ;-)

Finally, we now have the final line to 'See-through', straight from Mim herself: "tended, none the least." (I'm remembering that correctly, right, Scott? :)

So to sum up, while I was not completely happy with the show, I did have a great time overall. It was pretty cool meeting a lot of the listfolk whose names had never had faces 'til then! Despite those things I felt I missed in Low's set, the whole thing was worth it, and I'm glad I went...

...and I almost forgot to mention, taped the whole thing on my little cassette dictaphone, which actually sounds quite good. I got everything, and the only cut is at the start of 'Uptown', where a change of tapes was in order. Otherwise, it's all there! If anyone wants to trade, let me know...I'm really busy, but I'll try to fit folks in, particularly if they have something cool to offer.

So I guess that's it...enjoy your shows, all!

(By the way, I reserve the right to change my mind about ANY of the above pending further reflection, including, and especially, my comparisons of the new material with the old stuff...those comparisons may not wear well when the new album comes out, and when I have more time to listen to my tape. :)

Phil Salathé

describing that night seems like such an arduous task... it's almost indescribable. i will make an attempt, but my dear friend phil hasn't left much to be said :)

i think it would be out-of-place to put all of my feelings here. but i will say a few things...

the new songs are beautiful... but not as delicate, i agree! and that is hard to get used to... i, for one, choose not to get used to it. i think in some respects the new songs are *very* delicate, depending upon how you approach them. they seem to assail us floatingly, bare, and vulnerable... tossed at us in a meek way, but much more confidently than what we've heard from low in the past. i think i've done an adequate job of completely contradicting myself there! anyway...

this has moved me to decide on recording my own version of 'immune' for the tribute album, rather than 'cut' lol, and i have also had it stuck in my head since the show, phil :)

i guess i could never express how much it meant to me to be there that night... so i won't. perhaps you should ask one of my companions about the look i must have had in my eyes..

as for tim miller, i think we will be erecting a statue in his honor... i spoke to him the day after the show, and he said he had finally gotten home at 7am, hopped in the shower and then went to work... i hope by now he has gotten some sleep :) but he was amazing as far as driving was concerned, and is a great guy

i really enjoyed meeting everyone from the list, and otherwise, as well... everyone was great!

i definitely think low's set was much too short.. and i really think that has much to do with phil's disappointment... it felt like they hadn't even really gotten started, and so i believe we missed out on a lot because of that. alan definitely looked to me like he wanted to play more...

i look forward to the new record, i know it won't be another curtain... but i know it will be amazing of it's own accord. it's like, the new songs are more accessible in a sense, but that makes it's less accessible for some of us... "hardcore" fans, as phil would put it

and phil and i did get the final phrase to see-through, he speaks the truth... i have to give him most(all!!!) of the credit as he's the one who thought to ask, i just stood next to him ;) "tended, none the least..." yes, you're remembering that correctly :) mimi is stunning!

i think that's all from me right now...

i almost forgot, alan mentioned, jokingly, something about zak singing all of the songs on the new record.


i could put in a full review of the show, but it looks like phil has done a spectacular job of that, and scott has filled in all the spaces. so i guess i'll just tack on a few thoughts.

several firsts for me. first time i'd taken a several hundred mile roadtrip by myself, first time i'd gone to a concert solely with listmembers, first time i'd seen boston, first time i really got to talk with people who made the music i spend a whole lot of my time listening to.

it was great meeting you listmembers, and your friends. i don't think i've exchanged names with so many people in such a short time in my life. so phil, scott, ethan, et al., i look forward to doing it again in the future ;)

and turning the middle east into a veritable waitress' nightmare, not to mention quite a fire hazard, all with low eating a few tables away... that was just priceless.

my ears came close to being completely wrecked in the first set, when al, zak and mimi came on to play a few tunes with jess bailiff. alan got a huge amount of amplitude out of his "reverborator", though i was enjoying the whole thing even while clenching my teeth like a maniac.

ida ruled. i really enjoyed them alot.

low, i was kinda-sorta disappointed with, probably because my expectations were so high, and also because they got cut a bit short, and the majority (all but two) of the songs were unfamiliar to me. though you could turn that around and say "they played a whole lot of new stuff!". so it was good and bad for me at the same time.

but the experience as a whole was amazing. i'll surey remember it for years to come, before my faulty memory gets the better of it...

Tim Miller

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