The Low Anthem Fitzgerald's May 2, 2011
In another lifetime, and another location, Fitzgerald's could have been a barn. Every time we see a show upstairs, Aftermath halfway expects an owl to swoop out of the rafters and sink its talons into an errant field mouse.
Note to exterminators/Health Dept.: As far as we know, Fitz's does not have a rodent problem, nor any issues with birds of prey. The preceding paragraph was put there purely for effect, because all that was missing at out-of-time Rhode Island group The Low Anthem's sparsely attended but shockingly good show Monday night were a few bales of hay scattered about the stage and some cattle softly lowing nearby.
Freshly churned butter cooling in a brook out back wouldn't have been misplaced either.
Although we missed the first three songs of the set - note to promoters: If you tell us a band is going on at 10:30 p.m., please don't allow them to go on at 10 p.m. - it might have been for the best. When we walked in, the four core members of Low Anthem were hard at work on banjo, electric bass, drums and - we think - a hammered dulcimer, or something close to it.
When we see an instrument that requires mallets onstage, unless we are at the symphony or a Latin-jazz show, it normally sets off all kinds of "precious" alarm bells in Aftermath's head. But this was a ghostly, minimal tune in the barely-there vein of Low or Smog (Bill Callahan, whatever), enhanced by the ethereal waves of tremolo Jocie Adams was creating with those mallets.
The faint volume level didn't have a prayer of drowning out the steady thump of drums coming up from the show downstairs, which is when The Low Anthem completely disarmed us.
"I want to introduce the band downstairs," one of Adams' male bandmates said. "They're called Double Kick Fetus."
And instead of yielding any ground, the quartet gathered around one microphone in the middle of the stage and sang the hymnlike "Ghost Woman Blues," marginal acoustic guitar and lonesome clarinet framing the close harmonies of people who have been singing together for a long, long time - possibly, judging by their ages, since long before they were even born.
Or maybe not.