The Low Anthem @ Bush Hall, London 29.08.12

As the coolness of the winter months hits and affirms the fears that summer really is over, Bearded were at Bush Hall to catch The Low Anthem perform an intimate show. Bearded had seen The Low Anthem's hugely successful show at the Roundhouse in 2011 as part of their Smart Flesh album tour. That gig, had been perfectly reviewed by one Australian audience member who yelled “What a band. What a fucking band!” moments before they settled into their final song. Now, with the album fully settled, expectations were high and we were sure, that this performance was going to be of the highest quality.

Aug 29th, 2012 at Bush Hall, London / By James Ingham
The Low Anthem @ Bush Hall, London 29.08.12 After an enjoyable but mildly forgettable set from Huddersfield's Maia, The Low Anthem took to the stage – a stage that was scarred by the ungainly figure of what appeared to be a bike wheel on a tripod; this would come into play later. From the moment the first notes rung out, you were drawn in and fixated upon the band and as the gig unfolded it amazed just how spontaneous the performances of every song was. The Low Anthem do not simply play the songs as they are on the record. Ben Knox Miller, arguably one of the most genuine and sincere front men of the day, soulfully delivered 'Smart Flesh' and 'Ghosts That Write History Books' before blasting us with covers from the Rev. Gary Davis and Jack Kerouac - both big influences on songwriters Miller and Jocie Adams. Within six songs, Bearded had seen many different sides of this Rhode Island quintet, from the soft, melodic folk traits, to ballsy overdriven fuzzy-blues with trumpets blasting counter melodies from the back of the stage, being meddled into the anthemic 'Boeing 737'; a piece of Sigur Ros grandiose. With the spirit of the gig now fully loose, Miller led the audience serenely to a shoe-gaze stand-still with the lullaby qualities of 'Ghost Woman Blues' and the song that attracted Bearded two years ago to the band, 'To Ohio'. By this point of the show, despite the cutting of 'To Ohio' short, there was no denying it; The Low Anthem are incredible.

Another influence on the band, especially for Miller, is Tom Waits (although what contemporary alt-folk-country artist isn't influenced by Waits?), and almost tribute to this, they performed a worthy cover of Wait's 'Down There by the Train'. Then Miller, under the watchful eye of Jeff Prystowsky, the band's drummer, bassist and general multi instrumentalist, unleashed the sculpture that had sat up until this moment, untouched in the middle of the stage. “If you're an epileptic, run for it!” Miller called out as the strobe started and the sculpture came to life, showing a Moth flying round in a circle. This started the 2nd half of what had so far been a seamless performance.

Here, they dropped what was to be one of the most impressive musical moments of the whole night; the new song. To suit the hallucinatory effects of the lights and flying moths, the band launched into a riff that sounded straight out of Batman; we're talking the 60s Batman. Had The Low Anthem discovered surf pop? My heart sank mildly. However, all was not lost. The initial scorn melted away as the track unfurled with Miller and Adams belting into the same mic, Prystowsky pounding the drums whilst the newest members of the band Tyler Osborne and Mike Irwin added trumpet and fuzz bass to complete this cacophony of sound. This was a piece of music, completely unlike anything they had written before, and it was outstanding. This was a massive triumph for the band. It reminded this Bearded contributor of when Radiohead played 'Just' at the Astoria in '94 for the first time. It really was that good.

Needing to be brought back down to real life, once the crowd had stopped applauding, Miller, Prystowsky and Adams stepped forward together towards the front microphone and delivered a breathless rendition of 'Matter of Time' and as a tribute to former guitarist Dan Lefkowitz 'This God Damn House', a song hauntingly accompanied by Miller's Saw melodies, that was reminiscent of the Neutral Milk Hotel's record, In The Aeroplane Over the Sea.

It was at this stage of the set however that The Low Anthem made their blunder. It had almost been too good to be true. All being such talented multi instrumentalists, Prystowsky picked up the guitar and took the front of the stage giving the drums up to Miller. The band then proceeded to perform three songs, one about 'Spongebob Squarepants', one about a sex-pest and the final number to complete the trio about an 'Oriental Grocery Store'. What had happened? For the last hour or so the entire crowd had been lost in sheer staggering excellence and this had been shattered by three, cheap, joke songs which would have been more suitable on a Blink 182 b-side record or at a Fun Lovin' Criminals gig back in '95.

Almost as an unconscious reaction to the shift of mood in the room Miller, resuming the front of the stage, expressed to the audience the band's nervous tenacity by commenting “We don't really know what we're doing right now as a band, I mean, we've got a Moth Machine on stage.” This honesty went some way as to justify their decision for the late set direction change and was thankfully further salvaged by a stunning rendition of their 3rd record's title track 'Charlie Darwin'; Miller, Prystowsky and Adams again, stepped forward and huddled around the microphone, Adams clutching her clarinet, as the 3 part vocals soothed the rattled room. For Bearded, this had saved what was potentially one of the biggest live music disasters ever come across.

It cannot be denied, The Low Anthem, through their rich fusion of so many different influences, produce one of the most beautiful aesthetics, both live and on record. There's just no knocking the fact that this band tick all the boxes with the utmost quality. Bearded's Advice: Get their records, listen to them incessantly, and be ready for when they come back to the UK in 2013. “What a band. What a fucking band!”