The Low Anthem

The perfect gig to close the Open House Festival, despite the chattering classes

If moving the annual Open House Festival from September to June this year was so that this open air showcase event could take place, then the organisers were taking a hell of a risk considering the weather Belfast has ‘enjoyed’ in June this past few years.

Thankfully, however, though the skies threaten rain for most of the evening, not a drop falls on the crowds gathered in Custom House Square for the final night of the festival.

People are still streaming into the area when opening act The Low Anthem take to the stage just after 8pm. The four-piece huddle around a vintage mic and sing ‘Ghost Woman Blues’ in close harmony. The sound is rich, sweet and intimate: quite an achievement, considering the venue.

Song done, the band disperse around the large stage and take up instruments, including a bow saw, for ‘To The Ghosts Who Write History Books’ from their breakthrough 2009 album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin.

The hundreds gathered are hushed and attentive, soaking up the masterful musicality of the band. At various stages during the set, The Low Anthem take turns on clarinet, trumpet, violin and dulcimer as well as guitar, banjo, keyboards and drums.

Those toward the back of the venue, though, are less attentive: as the music on stage soars, so too their speaking voices, chatting to friends about who knows what.

That’s the problem with showcase events, especially in an outdoor arena. There is a wider range of people attending. Some come to hear bands they’re passionate about. Others buy tickets to the show simply because it’s the place to be and the place to say you’ve been: even though some wouldn’t know a Fleet Foxes from Basil Brush.

The chattering lessens for a while when drums enter the musical equation for the first time as the band kick into ‘Hey, All You Hippies!’. A crazy fairground organ solo from Jocie Adams even has some shaking their asses to the music.

The uptempo momentum continues with a cover of a Tom Waits cover of a Jack Kerouac song, ‘Home I’ll Never Be', before they abruptly bring the mood back down again with a stunningly beautiful countrified version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on a Wire'.

The band finish their set with ‘Boeing 737’ from their recent, critically acclaimed album Smart Flesh. This reviewer, for one, is disappointed not to hear songs such as ‘To Ohio’ or ‘Apothecary Love', but being third on the bill limits their time on stage. 

The Low Anthem appeared at the Open House Festival last year as support act to Iron & Wine. Let’s hope they return again next year, but as headliners: it’s no less than their talent deserves.