Concerts Concerts The Low Anthem Brings Their Beautiful Americana To Toronto

The Low Anthem Brings Their Beautiful Americana To Toronto

The Low Anthem
The Barr Brothers
Church of the Redeemer in Toronto, Ontario
April 10th, 2010

Review by: Jen Polk

Church shows are always a treat, and Saturday night's concert with The Low Anthem / The Barr Brothers was very near perfect. From the carefully chosen before-and-between-set music, to the lighting, cushioned pews, and stellar performances by both bands, this was a show I won't soon forget. Given the brilliant acoustics of the Church of the Redeemer and the choice of performing both original and cover songs, The Low Anthem could have recorded their moving set as a live album.

The Barr Brothers

The Barr Brothers — Brad (guitar, vocals) and Andrew (drums), along with Sarah Page (harp) and Andy Vial (keys, bass) — opened the show. This new group doesn't have an official EP or album yet, though they printed up some CDs to sell on tour. The band got started with "Beggar in the Morning," a beautiful tune that both set the tone and heightened my expectations. Next were "Ooh Belle," a version of which can be heard at Brad's MySpace, and "Old Mythologies." These quieter love songs were followed by a more rock 'n' roll tune, with an instrumental jam-out section in the middle and a reverb guitar solo. The crowd was appreciative, and the bluesy country rock tune which came next was also a hit with audience members. With the audience now firmly on their side, the band then performed a one of their lovely slower songs, before ending the set with a darker, rockier, Americana blues number. It was an impressive set, showing off the a few different flavours of The Barr Brothers' contemporary take on folk and blues rock.

The Barr Brothers play in Toronto again on April 20th at the Horseshoe Tavern. This is a free show with Plants & Animals!

The Low Anthem

The Low Anthem is folk Americana at its best. A bit rock 'n' roll, a good amount of blues, lots of gorgeous vocal harmonizing, and folk melodies aplenty. Repeated chorus lines invite contemplation and singing along. The staggering array of instruments performed during a set delight the senses, both visual and aural.

Their setup was complicated: 7 different spots, meaning I wasn't sure how many musicians to expect. As it turned out, it was just four people — lead singer/guitarist Ben Knox Miller, bassist Jeff Prystowsky, clarinet player Jocie Adams, and organist Mat Davidson — with a drummer coming in to help out on three of the 18 songs the band performed over the course of the evening. The band members switched instruments often, but the changes did not ruin the flow. Instead, the changeups added to the feeling that we were witnessing something special. The talented group made good use of instruments like a harmonium, a set of crotales played with a bow, a saw, a WW1-vintage pump organ, an upright double bass, a marching horn, and clarinets, in addition to acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass, and a drum kit.

The long set included new songs which will appear on an album to be released in September, songs from 2008's breakout album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, at least one from What the Crow Brings (2007, "This God Damn House"), and covers of traditional American folk and blues songs. A couple of the latter were recently released on a 7" (Charlie Darwin, 2010): Blind Willie McTell's "Don't Let Nobody Turn You Around," first recorded in 1933, and Reverend Gary Davis' "Sally, Where'd You Get Your Liquor From." Everything worked excellently together. The original tunes like "Ticket Taker," "OMGCD," "Apothecary," and the hit "To Ohio" were exciting, but I also found myself falling in love with the band's interpretations of older melodies and lyrics: Tim Spencer's "Cigareetes, Whusky and Wild, Wild Women" (1947) and George Carter's "Ghost Woman Blues" (1929), but also Robbie Robertson's "The Last Waltz" (ca 1976). What fun!

Playing their first Toronto headline show to an attentive audience in the lovely surroundings of a downtown church has got to be one of the better ways to perform for a band like The Low Anthem. And for the audience, it was awesome. During "This God Damn House," Miller asked audience members to do that neat cell phone trick — call your neighbour, put both units on speakerphone, and hold them close to each other — and some people obliged. It went on for a few minutes, creating a kind of chirping sound. The audience was thrilled to have been invited to take part in the performance.

I find The Low Anthems' recordings occasionally too mellow or too gruff, but live, the experience was quite moving. After fifteen songs, the band left the stage, and soon a standing ovation called them back. We got three more, including "To Ohio," which was greeted by cheering. This was a beautiful evening of music, with two bands I can now highly recommend to concert-goers, especially the headliners.