Low - review of Paris '99 - Anthony, Are You Around?
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Low, Paris '99: Anthony, Are You Around? (P-Vine; 2001)
Rating: 7.8

Just getting into Low? Not familiar with Duluthian etiquette? Here are some guidelines you should get acquainted with before you get all elitist on your friends and/or subordinates:

1. Do not pigeonhole.

In referring to Low, refrain from the use of the following words or phrases: "slowcore," "slo-fi," "snorecore," etc. Low doesn't center around being slow, and they don't intentionally perform low-tempo songs in order to be "different." Well, not anymore, anyway, seeing as they've sheepishly admitted that they used to tailor songs to the standard slow-and-quiet rubric. These days, they write moving songs with minimalist tendencies. You can use that one on your comrades. And when they respond with a rebuttal on how amazing Incubus' songwriting is, tell them that Brandon Boyd's navel really isn't all that attractive. Usually gets them going.

2. If you ever happen to be around members of the band, do not under any circumstances mention the owL remix Low album.

While it's okay to enjoy their somber rendition of "Little Drummer Boy" on a Gap commercial, it's just weird to hear them while you're actually in the store. Or perhaps you should just avoid the store altogether.

3. Low shows are not the place to be rowdy.

That means no yelling, clapping at inappropriate times, or singing along obnoxiously. While it's standard rock and roll fare to aurally show your appreciation for a band and prove that you are the biggest fan in the room, Low concerts are closer to a performance of the Marriage of Figaro than a performance by Kiss, in that, if you're not completely silent, you might just miss something.

Which is a piece of advice that should be dispensed at the door of all Low concerts. At least, I wish that it were when listening to Anthony, Are You Around?, recorded in November 1999 at La Maroquinerie in Paris and released only in Japan on P-Vine. Deemed "a small victory" by Alan Sparhawk, the concert documented is the first to take place in "a proper music venue." As such, there are points during the recording when I cringe at the sound of rabid fans acknowledging a song that they recognize ("Starfire," "Immune") or cheering at the prospect of a guitar solo ("Blue Christmas").

While these arrangements fundamentally remain faithful to their studio counterparts (except for the loss of strings and keyboards), a majority of the tracks are imbued with a sense of energy only possible with a live performance in front of an audience. "Rope" and "Soon" are prime testaments, both leaning towards sprawling and epic (to the extent that Low can be epic). "Soon," a contender for best track present, ditches the strings, replacing them a sense of dynamic exemplified by the extended bridge. Mimi Parker's crash echoes the desperation built by Alan Sparhawk and Zak Sally (on guitar and bass, respectively) before falling back to near-silence as Sparhawk, at his most intense, delivers the truncated final verse in a broken voice.

Most of the setlist is comprised of Secret Name tracks, with some especially delectable oldies and singles thrown in, which the band rarely performs: "Rope," "Lazy," "Joan of Arc," and "No Need" are all present. And while there's a request for "Sunshine," it goes ignored. "Hey Chicago" from the stunning Songs for a Dead Pilot EP feels short, yet is extremely satisfying despite the absence of Chris Freeman's pervasive keyboards. Sparhawk introduces "Blue Christmas" by saying, "We're going to do a song originally done by the King." Parker's vocals stray from Elvis' heavy vibrato, laying bare a simple holiday sentiment. The aforementioned guitar solo during the song, which was later included on the lauded Christmas EP, reiterates the simple maudlin melody, adding a slight tremolo.

This recording is sourced from the board, so it's of quality even with some noise, but as Alan states in the liner notes, the vocals are a bit high. It's also apparent in the recording that the venue is quite small, since you can hear the audience so clearly when they yell. As for garnering more fans, this release is only available domestically on import from Japan, so I'm sure newcomers will consider the $30 price tag a bit steep. This recording, however, does epitomize Low, but even without the difference in price, I would direct first-timers to Things We Lost in the Fire or The Curtain Hits the Cast.

- Christopher F. Schiel, November 13th, 2001