LOW at Lee's Palace, February 12. Tickets: $11. Attendance: 500 (sold out). Rating: NNN
LOW at Lee's Palace, February 12. Tickets: $11. Attendance: 500 (sold out). Rating: NNN by now it's clear that the real news about Duluth, Minnesota, slowcore trio Low isn't that they make music that just barely infringes on your consciousness -- it's that people are paying close attention.Just a few years ago, Low were more of a sideshow than a main attraction, playing in front of a few dozen rapt fans but often losing control of the room when crowds got restless and began to whisper. Now, the threesome do Gap commercials and get 500 people out on a frosty Monday night to be absolutely silent for 90 minutes. Who knew?
It's still true that Low in concert remain the closest thing a live band can be to an inanimate object. They play hushed, barely there songs at 50 beats per minute and down, and an off-microphone cough from singer Alan Spearhawk can seem like high drama.
At Lee's on Monday, fans hung on every strummed note and brushed drum beat that Low played. There was more romantic swaying than at a Sting concert, and the only break in the reverie came when fans shouted out requests or someone's cellphone rang.
It was like a concert in suspended animation, with the subtle interplay between Spearhawk, percussionist Mimi Parker and bassist Zak Sally creating a casual intensity out of the group's skeletal pop songs.
With 90 per cent of the audience listening with their eyes closed, though, the biggest treat was that you could finally hear what Low were doing.
catherine hughes at the NOW Lounge, February 8. Tickets: free. Attendance: 100. Rating: NNN catherine hughes's renditions of pre-second world war standards come across on CD as competent but not all that thrilling. Singing live, though, she really sneaks up on you. In her 30s gown and with her hair swept up Mae West-style, the Toronto singer hit the NOW Lounge stage and swung through her repertoire, tunes like Ain't Misbehavin', Dream A Little Dream and a right decent version of Am I Blue, in a way that made it all look quite effortless.
Which it can't be -- these are demanding songs that require a well-developed technique. Except for the odd wayward note in the lower register (and I'm being picky here), Hughes's trill, backed ably by pianist Donald Guinn, stayed pretty true.
That sense of ease also came across in her between-song patter, which was blunt, funny and -- if she made it a bit bawdier -- could get right into the Bette Midler zone. Hughes ought to consider that strategy. And the two-set gig needs to be structured with a little more arc to it. The first half should leave somewhere for the second to go.
As it is, spending time in Hughes's orbit is a pleasurable way to kill an evening. You would not have known that this was a debut gig were it not for the fact that the first words out of Hughes's mouth were, "Oh, my god, I know every single person in this room."
Not a piece of info you want to give away.SUSAN G. COLE
Shush-rockers finally make themselves heard By MATT GALLOWAY