Flashback 2000. The Lowest of the Low, arguably the crowing stitch in the Canadian indie rock bonnet, reunite. Armchair socialists, half-soused hipsters and other new-ish romantics rejoice. Some four years, countless gigs, cross-Canada reunion tours and umpteen hushed studio appearances later, a concert by the Low is still enough to throw the local beer brigade into a veritable tizzy. This occasion, a 56th birthday party for the Horseshoe Tavern, was no exception.
For longtime fans, the band's appearance was an opportunity to hear the boys hash out tracks that will appear on their forthcoming comeback album, and if this night's offerings were any indication, it should kick major bum bum. New tracks like "Your Birthday Party," "Dark Horse" and "Winter Sleepers" play out with the kind of angst and spirit that cemented the Low as the ultimate Queen Street idealists over ten years ago. Singer Ron Hawkins' narbled baritone still resonates with a brand of unique honesty typically reserved for philanthropists and guys named Bob Dylan. However, much like a fine "whine," co-shouter Stephen Stanley's bark seems to have improved with age, adding extra "tah tah" to the band's signature harmonies. The playing was tight, they wore ties on-stage, and the new material definitely rocked. Better days ahead, for certain.
Of course, you'd have to be a complete narbo to ignore the breadth of classic Low tracks that were otherwise offered during the set. "4 O'Clock Stop" was thrown out there early to appease the churning masses while "Just About the 'Only' Blues" likewise helped cull the beer drinkers. The band's 1994 effort Hallucigenia was well represented, especially on the torrid "Dogs of February," which really hit close to home since it was, after all, February and I did see a defecating Bichon Frise on my 25-minute trudge to the venue. In a show of solidarity, both Hawkins and Stanley provided a token song each from their respective solo offerings (a tit-for-tat scenario) and both were bastardized for consumption. The only real low point was a take on Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding," which really didn't live up to either to original or the Costello version. No big whoop there.
The night ended with a sparkling double encore. Two tracks. The first was "Black Monday." This off-key, alcoholic shout-out caused the assemblage of lumpy overaged frat boys in front of me sway, link arms and probably say things to each other like "I love you, man!" and/or "Here… drink this!" The last and, yeah, least was "Bleed a Little While Tonight," perhaps the most beloved track in the Low's vocabulary. Meekishly doting away from behind the band's keyboard, Hawkins only sang selected lyrics in an extremely stripped down version of the song. Luckily, the crowd was only too happy to fill in the blanks, shouting along in unison a faithful rendering of the missing words. A gutsy move for most bands but as this performance proved, a little heart and a whole lotta libation can go a long way.
Writer: Cameron Gordon