The Low Anthem: Music Hall of Williamsburg 15 June 2011

We just saw The Low Anthem in March but couldn’t resist seeing them again – especially because Crispy Girl was up from Florida and would be joining us. She’s been catching a lot of our favorite acts when they swing through her town and it’s great to hear and read about her experiences with the musicians I love so much.

The Bowery Ballroom show had been sold out but the Music Hall of Williamsburg was not. And Daniel Lefkowitz had to open to a very empty room. It’s a shame that people were still hanging out in the bar downstairs. If you love The Low Anthem, then you need to pay respect to Lefkowitz. He used to be in the band but more importantly he wrote one of their best songs – and the song that made me fall in love with them – “This God Damn House.” But Lefkowitz was funny and charming and made the best of it. And still as hippie as ever. Those of us who were there were quiet and attentive. It was one of the quietest rooms I’ve ever heard for an opening act. His voice is scratchy and pleading and not unlike Ben Knox Miller’s (lead singer for The Low Anthem), who joined him to play saw on one song. Jeff Prystowsky (bass and drums among other instruments for The Low Anthem) joined them on drums for the one after. No one applauded when Ben came out and there was no introduction but the flashes from the camera started as soon as he sat down. I don’t know what Ben did with the saw but later when Mat Davidson (The Low Anthem) came out for their set up you could see him wandering around with the bow and looking for the saw and never finding it. Lefkowitz joked about being afraid of NYC (he is a very back-to-nature hippie) and had written a song about a Hasidic driver driving an Econoline and hitting him. He does have a wonderful sense of humor and he’s sweet and I like him.

Watching These United States my immediate thought was that this band needs to be paired with Lucero. What a great touring act that would be. They’re young and not as polished but they are foot-stomping rock with a country twang. The band is a very charismatic Jesse Elliott on lead vocal and acoustic guitar, J. Tom Hnatow on lead electric guitar, Robby Cosenza on drums and backing vocals, Justin Craig on pedal steel and slide electric guitar and Dave on bass who is a brand-new member and I can’t find his last name. One thing I was thinking while watching the band is, “Does anyone bathe?” This bunch looked like hippies although I don’t think they really are. Elliott jumped into the audience for one song and just stomped and clapped while the rest of the guys played. It’s interesting listening to their MySpace page because I don’t hear the energy they possess on stage. I would love to see them again.

There was a moment while watching The Low Anthem when I realized that they now belonged to the world. They were so unformed the first time I saw them but I knew they were special. And whether it was the basement of a Lower East Side bar or one of the theaters at Jazz at Lincoln Center, I still felt a certain ownership. But not anymore. They are self-assured and comfortable and not just mine anymore.

As usual the stage was set up with lots of instruments – pump organ, harmonium, acoustic and electric guitars, acoustic and electric basses, banjo, clarinet, marching horn, croatales, saw, hammer dulcimer, and drums. The was one vocal mic set up in the center front for a couple of (almost) a cappella numbers where they do their other worldly harmonies. I wasn’t familiar with the mic and I hadn’t seen them use it before. But it really made a difference in being able to hear all the voices – including Jocie Adam’s quiet ethereal harmonies (and she was looking summery in a long white dress and sandals).

This time around it felt a bit like the Ben Show. He’s the lead singer so there’s always going to be a lot of attention on him anyway. But one of the things I love about this band is Jeff’s smiling beatific face. Ben, Jocie, and Mat don’t smile a lot and Jeff adds a wonderful personality and charm. Except for one number at the start and then a couple at the end on acoustic bass plus the songs around the vocal mic, Jeff was behind the drums the entire night. There was no slap-happy long bass solo and there was no Jocie clarinet solo because there was no “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around.” Stuart and Mike joined Jocie on some songs with their clarinet and horn but there was no “Wire” the instrumental clarinet song.

Between the instruments and personnel, it’s always a crowded stage but this time it looked like they had a lot more room. On stage for one song was their road manager playing some percussion with Jeff. They also brought out their friend Martha (who in the past always sang “Charlie Darwin” with them) for “Cage the Songbird.” And Lefkowitz played guitar on one song.

For “This God Damn House” Ben asked us to call our concert mate and put our phones in the 69-position. rtb and I weren’t getting any effects and couldn’t figure out what was wrong until we realized we’d forgotten to put our phones on speaker. So for only the last few seconds we got the alien bird chirping feedback. How many times have we done this and watched it done?

We got the quiet songs and we got the rockers and we got the blues and we got the rootsy and we got the rock and we got the roll.

The night ended with “Charlie Darwin” and I remembered the third time we saw them at Joe’s Pub when they opened with that song and Ben sounded so tentative. Now the vocals are strong and confident and the harmonies are even more beautiful than I’ve ever heard them. Someday I may not be able to afford to see The Low Anthem. I couldn’t be more happy for them.

Set List

  • Matter of Time
  • Cage the Songbird
  • Ghost Woman Blues
  • Hey, All You Hippies!
  • Home I’ll Never Be (with Jocie screaming one verse and the crowd goes wild!)
  • Apothecary Love
  • Burn
  • Sally Where’d You Get Your Liquor From?
  • To the Ghosts Who Write History Books
  • Boeing 737
  • The Horizon is a Beltway
  • To Ohio
  • Love and Altar (Mat playing the banjo with a bow)
  • Bird on a Wire (Leonard Cohen cover)
  • This God Damn House
  • Encore

  • Smart Flesh
  • Charlie Darwin
  • By Carene Lydia Lopez