Retribution Gospel Choir get intense at the Triple Rock

Categories: Concert Review
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Photo by Cameron Wittig
A sharply dressed and intensely focused Retribution Gospel Choir stormed into the Triple Rock Social Club and delivered a blistering 75-minute set that astounded the large Saturday night crowd. Playing the last show of their current U.S. tour, Alan Sparhawk and his band mates (drummer Eric Pollard and current Low bassist Steve Garrington) tore through a no-nonsense, filler-free show that was thunderous and tightly wound right from the start. The unrelenting sonic assault began with a cover of Low's "Breaker" (which also appears on RGC's self-titled first album) and didn't let up until the encore, with the band eschewing any lengthy stage banter during the set.

The set list drew pretty evenly between both RGC albums, with the start of the show showcasing mostly older material. The early songs have clearly benefited from the band exploring them a bit further, injecting them with an added potency and strength, especially on stormy versions of "What She Turned Into" and "Kids." But the songs from their brilliant new record, 2, were the real revelations, with current single "Hide It Away" and a scorching version of "Poor Man's Daughter" (complete with Sparhawk playing his dark green Les Paul with his teeth) standing out amidst the whirlwind set.

The three-piece were locked in all evening long, hardly giving themselves (or the crowd) time to catch their breath before it was on to the next song, which only served to add to the intensity and frenzy of the songs themselves. The spotlight was clearly on Sparhawk's guitar work during the entire set, tearing it up on "Your Bird" and an extended, fierce version of -- appropriately enough -- "Electric Guitar." Sparhawk joked recently about how he's done things in reverse and gotten louder as he's grown older, and this was by far the loudest show I've ever seen him play. You could also tell he was quite happy to be back home in Minnesota, especially when he dedicated the main set closer to "My Valentine, who I'm going to see tonight" before playing a passionate version of "Take Your Time."

And after a brief encore of Sparhawk serenading the audience with a tender "Bless Us All," the band quickly left to rapturous applause. Retribution Gospel Choir are a tempestuous live band, and with Sparhawk at the command, be it in the hushed beauty of Low or the fierce energy of RGC, the audience is always left satisfied and completely spent.

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