Mono and Low stand at opposite sonic poles.
Making its name as a pioneer of slowcore, Low was initially known for turning down its amps and encouraging people to get comfortable on the floor. The band has been a long-running case study in music that is quiet without sacrificing intensity. So fans may be baffled by the group’s decision to co-headline the tour with Japan’s MONO, a band that unabashedly wears its love of My Bloody Valentine on its sleeve. Yet somehow the pairing really does work.
Both bands seemed to inspire each other to bring its A-game, which for Low meant that front man Alan Sparhawk got to shred a little more than he normally does. The band has moved beyond its quiet roots, and its set peaked at those moments when it delivered huge walls of sound – perhaps reaching its apex when members of MONO backed up Low on C’mon banger “Majesty/Magic.”
Half of the fun of live Low can be just watching such a slow band play: Sparhawk almost cradles his guitar, a gesture that feels lovely and tender, and you have to wonder about the level of muscle control required for Mimi Parker’s slow drumming (with never a beat out of place). The audience also got a small taste of the follow up to 2015’s fantastic Ones and Sixes, which sounds lovely.
Unfortunately for MONO, Low is a strangely hard act to follow. In my recent interview with front man Takaakira “Taka” Goto, he listed Beethoven as one of his strongest influences (the other was My Bloody Valentine, naturally), so it was fitting that the band came onstage to the sound of “Moonlight Sonata.”
This gentle prelude briefly lulled the crowd into a false sense of security right before the band launched into Hymn for the Immortal Wind opener “Ashes in the Snow,” a veritable a gut punch after Low’s arctic set. MONO has been at this for 18 years, and though the band has tightened its craft in spectacular ways, it felt like the band’s heart wasn’t in it. Despite performing an impressive set that deftly evoked waves of intense emotion, it seemed to play it safe, especially given its reputation for blistering, intense post-rock noise. Luckily, even at its most rote, the band in concert is a truly breathtaking sight. Instrumental music is a tricky beast to pull off on stage, but the group has skillfully tamed it, with an almost religious love of white noise guitar squalls.
Going in, it was difficult to understand why this tour existed. Mono and Low stand at opposite sonic poles, but it was thrilling to watch how the bands complemented each other by virtue of just sharing a stage. Low and MONO have joined forces for only five dates, though one hopes more will follow later. But you have to applaud the ambition behind such an adventurous, unlikely combination of bands.