Low — a band that has become well-known for its demanding, glacially paced music — was apparently a little too demanding for some people last week. The trio performed to a massive crowd at Minneapolis’ Rock the Garden festival, and they performed just one song: a nearly 30-minute rendition of “Do You Know How to Waltz?”, a mind-blowing monolith of drones and noise from their 1996 album The Curtain Hits the Cast. According to critic Chris Riemenschneider, some members of the audience were “genuinely angry and disgusted” and apparently, there was some backlash on Twitter.
Low frontman Alan Sparhawk later explained the reasoning behind their performance:
It was a combo of things… It was just kind of a weird atmosphere, people coming in during the rain, not really knowing where to go. And then we found out our set had to be a little shorter than planned, to get the schedule on track. So we decided to try to do something beautiful.
“Do You Know How To Waltz?” is one of, if not the, most epic song in Low’s catalog, and has become something of a legend amongst fans (for one thing, it’s the song they'd perform with Godspeed! You Black Emperor while touring together). Indeed, one of my favorite concert experiences of all time was seeing Low perform this song in Omaha's Cog Factory in December of 1996.
If you’ve ever been to the Cog Factory — which closed several years ago — then you remember that it was a pretty barren place. Seeing as how it was the middle of December, the Factory was freezing inside, and I think there were about a dozen people in all, which only added to the barren-ness. But all of us were completely transfixed by the trio’s performance, as wave after wave of guitar, bass, and percussion rolled over us in that desolate little shack of a venue.
Listening to the recording above, it’s quite clear that Low have lost none of their masterful control of atmosphere and dynamics. The song is still as spellbinding and awe-inspiring as ever, the sort of thing that Sigur Rós would give a hundred bowed guitars to compose. The fact that people were “disgusted” by it makes me sad (though the level of vitriol directed by Minnesotans at one of their state’s most well-known and respected bands is kind of funny, too). The recording is nice, but I’d have given almost anything to be in the crowd, to experience the song again.