I will take some bragging rights that I bought "I Could Live in Hope" off the shelf at Cheapo records in 1994. I fell in love with this music that I could only describe as something like sad optimism that was gentle and intense all at the same time. Since then, their music has grown even more complicated despite the slo-core moniker. "The Great Destroyer" made me realize that our local band had launched beyond my bubble. Reviews nationwide were overwhelmingly glowing.
David Kleijwegt's documentary about the band, and more specifically about husband and wife members Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk, reflects some of the same complexities and contradictions of the music in lead singer Sparhawk himself. At the heart of this contradiction is Parker and Sparhawk's Mormonism. As ridiculous and one-dimensional as it sounds, it is hard to imagine musicians, especially musicians you respect, being a part of the same church as those young men in the white shirts always trying to save me. But Sparhawk represents his faith as unwavering in light of, and more to the point, because of his own imperfections.
Low is, of course, from Duluth, a town that is readily adopted by Twin Citians as their own. They have put out eight full length CDs, five EPs, a Christmas CD, a fantastic 3 CD/1 DVD box of B-sides and rarities, and also a subject of one of the best remix CDs ever entitled Owl. They show up in town often as a "local" band, annually doing a Christmas show at First Ave in December and most recently at Radio K's 15th anniversary show. They have always been an enigmatic band that refuses categorizing, and the documentary is a compliment to that.
Sparhawk suffered something of a breakdown a couple of years ago that sent him to the hospital. Sparhawk talks around the incident with mumbled vagueness: as being delusional and manic and even eludes to the believe that he might be the anti-Christ. It becomes pretty clear that Sparhawk's feelings run pretty deep regardless of whether he is talking about his religion, the state of the world, or his music. Some of his opinions are strange and difficult for me to reconcile, so I can't imagine how these things reconcile themselves in his head. But that is really one of the brilliant things about the documentary: like every other individual out there, you can't simply pigeon-hole someone with a label. Whether it's Mormon, musician, or drug addict, people are infinitely more complex and interesting.
The documentary takes place post "Drums and Guns" on tour and at home with Parker and Sparhawk and their two young kids. There's some nice Duluth footage, as well as a brilliant scene at their home where Sparhawk is downstairs rocking out with the band as Parker is upstairs trying to manage the kids. Some of the impromptu acoustic performances with Sparhawk and Parker are nothing short of beautiful. Kleijwegt does an excellent job of providing intimate interviews that never exploit and tour footage that never becomes dull. But then again, I'm a fan.
Low: You May Need a Murderer screens again on Wednesday, October 29 at 9:15pm at St Anthony Main as part of the Sound Unseen 9.