The Walker: Low's set was one of the best Rock the Garden moments ever

Categories: Rock the Garden
Photo by Zoran Orlic
The Twin Cities music community needs a jolt every so often, and it came over the weekend via Low's performance at Rock the Garden. In a set defying their more traditional recent material, including this year's fascinating The Invisible Way, the 20-year vets leaned heavily on their slower, contemplative side. They performed an extended version of "Do You Know How to Waltz?" for their entire set and close by saying, "Drone, not drones." A significant outcry followed from attendees, but we thought it totally ruled.

While there were murmurs that the Walker must be upset that Low bucked convention and riled a portion of the RTG crowd, senior curator of performing arts Philip Bither was elated by what he experienced. "To my mind, Low's set was one of the most exciting moments in Rock the Garden history," he writes in a thoughtful essay on the Walker's site.

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For anyone who has experienced a Walker Art Center concert on another occasion, Bither frequently has the task and honor of explaining to concert-goers what they'll experience. His knowledge on all musical art forms is significant, and he has built the Walker's yearly music offerings into a crucial bridge between the Pitchfork crowd and the true avant-garde. What other local art gallery can facilitate shows featuring Cocorosie, Tim Hecker, and Brad Mehldau?

Reading this essay, titled Low: Rock the Garden's own Rite of Spring?, you can tell right away you're dealing with an astute and learned man when it comes to all sorts of experimental music, and his input plays a role into what makes Rock the Garden great. We would recommend putting on the 28-minute version of "Do You Know How to Waltz?" streaming at the Current, and curling up with this piece of writing right away.

Within, Bither equates the piece to the riotous response Paris audience members had after the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" in 1913. He writes, "Low chose to place themselves in the company of sonic renegades from rock's history: Hendrix, John Cale, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Sunn O)))), Patti Smith, Sonic Youth and dozens of others, including some of today's most popular rock artists -- Neil Young, Wilco, and Radiohead, to name a few.... The success of Rock the Garden has for some time brought commercial and broad-based expectations of accessibility to an event never intended to exclusively carry such, certainly not with all or even most of its chosen bands." [Italics are ours.]

Yes, as we said in less flowery terms earlier this week, Rock the Garden is not Jingle Ball. By Low frontman Alan Sparhawk's own admission, the decision came out of trying to do something beautiful after the rain. And they did.

"Witnessing Low's performance Saturday, I admit to my own initial confusion, which melted quickly into gratitude and then awe as the piece unfolded," Bither continues. "So much so that when the set ended I rushed backstage to give Steve, Mimi, and Alan my thanks and my well wishes before anyone else could reach them."

Read the rest of Bither's thoughts at the Walker's site here.

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Adam Wogen
Adam Wogen

Oh PLEASE. Low is not even in the same ballpark as the "sonic renegads" he mentions in that essay. They're barely in the same game.

Harrison Bankhead
Harrison Bankhead

Of course they're going to defend a shit performance at their festival. Yawn.


I find the whole "blame the audience" argument tedious and pretentious.  If this performance is going to be lauded as high art that just went over the heads of the unwashed masses, the Walker might try to be introspective about how they ended up with a crowd that for the most part would disagree.

Personally, I think that the partnership with MPR and the Current is attracting a crowd that's right smack in the middle of the Pitchfork demographic instead of skewing towards the avant-garde.  The lack of competing high-profile music festivals in the Twin Cities probably isn't helping either.  Regardless, I think the Walker needs a clear idea of what they want RTG to be (which the essay suggests they have) and perhaps more importantly adjust the expectations of its attendees accordingly. 

Kevin Nichols
Kevin Nichols

I would like to hear The Currents opinion. We were listening at work and we couldn't help but to bust out laughing at The Current as they realized what was happening. If they knew before and left it on more power to them. That was some dead air:D


Talk about beatinig a dead horse on this subject.

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