gig review: Low/ Death Vessel, Belfast Cathedral Quarter 10th May

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Unlike last year this tent is dark and a lot more intimate than the bland white "beer-tent" that hosted Julian Cope and others twelve months ago. The crowd are reverential as well, polite applause and hardly any chat for Death Vessel, hushed silence for Low.
Let's dwell on Death Vessel for a moment. This is a solo show by the main guy Joel Thibodeau, who is a thin, lank-haired acoustic guitar player and singer who would look very at home in 1970. His voice is amazing, almost a soprano, and a few people here are convinced he is female! Californian sounding folk-country isn't what you expect from a band called Death Vessel who have just signed to Sub Pop, but that's what Joel impressively delivered. Familiarity with the material would have helped the crowd get into it a bit more, and he hardly spoke either, but then I guess that latter point might be a way to keep up the gender mystique.
Low are one of my favourite bands although I've only ever been to one of their gigs (Highbury Garage in '99, a classic example of how of noisy audience can ruin the night). Happily the sold-out crowd tonight treats the Minnesota trio with reverence. You can hear muffled mobiles beeping occasionally and the bar staff scooping ice, but it is VERY quiet, and don't forget we are in a tent in the city centre!
Low are superb as well. The new album "Drums and Guns' has divided opinion largely due to super-producer Dave Fridmann's trick of putting the main vocals on the right channel (it works for me but it took a while!), but it has some fine songs on it and it provides the bulk of the set list tonight. 'Dragonfly' and 'Murderer' alone are worth the price of admission, some of the best songs they have ever written. The tempo never really rises and neither does the volume, although 'Pissing' does crank it up a notch or two, and 'Breaker' is positively vicious. Most of the other material comes from the excellent 'Things We Lost in The Fire' album, ('July' is another highlight), with 'Over the Ocean' and the beautiful closing epic 'Lullaby' keeping the older fans happy. A slight set-list grumble on my part is that I was expecting 'The Plan' because I knew they had been playing it on this tour and it is one of my favourite songs ever, but I guess 'Lullaby' got the nod ahead of it.
Although their music is sparse and bleak, it is incredibly beautiful, and thankfully this performance, and this setting, and this whole ATMOSPHERE was something to treasure.

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