The Low Anthem, Live Session #88

by oz on May 2, 2011

9/11 was suddenly thrust back into our minds last night and today as we learn the details surrounding Osama Bin Laden’s death. We were collectively shaken to our core after the fall of the Twin Towers and the events of 9/11 inspired lyrics in many songs released in 2001 and the years following. Songs like “Jesus Etc” by Wilco are aural fossils of the time period, with words like “Tall buildings shake/ Voices escape singing sad sad songs” serving as subtle artifacts for future generations to explore.

A decade later, The Low Anthem released Smart Flesh and a song called “Boeing 737.” It’s my favorite song of the year – my favorite in recent memory. It opens with a violent fury of cymbals crashing over trumpet, guitar, and pump organ and lyrics that would make Guthrie proud. The song places a character high up in the World Trade Center where he buys a drink for Phillipe Petit, a tightrope walker known for his epic “man on a wire” tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in the 70’s:

I was in the air when the towers came down
In a bar on the 84th floor
I bought Philippe Petit a round
And asked what his high wire was for
He said, I put one foot on the wire,
One foot straight into heaven
As the prophets entered boldly into the bar
On the Boeing 737, Lord, on the Boeing 737

You’ll then find lyrical genius in the chorus:

Hey little bird, would you be the one
To nest beneath my Gatling gun?
There’s nothing left I call my own
Come down and build me a home.

The literary verse is open to interpretation, but it paints a picture for resolution and a more peaceful existence.  “Boeing 737” has the capacity to weaken your knees or reduce you to tears and its song craft is triumphant – almost prophetic. If it had been written today, inspired by last night’s events, the song would make total sense. I hate to ignore the beauty in other songs in this session, especially “Love and Altar,” but 737 is a personal song obsession.

It’s hard to put into words what The Low Anthem’s music means to me. There isn’t a band out there that I’ve listened to more frequently or with as much focus over the years. I continue to listen to their entire discography, including What The Crow Brings, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, and now Smart Flesh and find more to explore each time. I frequently revisit our first session with The Low Anthem to hear “Charlie Darwin,” my favorite recorded version of that song (perhaps because I was in the live room videotaping). And now here we are with a fresh batch of songs off of 2011’s Smart Flesh.

The band poses some challenges in a session because each musician in the band rotates to play a different instrument on each song. Allow me to illustrate with notes from session producer, Steve Shirk:

“Matter of Time”
Ben: Vocals and Pump Organ
Jocie: Clarinet
Jeff: Upright Bass
Matt: Saw

“Boeing 737”
Ben: Vocals and Guitar
Jocie: Vocals Pump Organ and Trumpet
Jeff: Drums
Matt: Vocals and Electric Bass
Graham: Banjo

Ben:  Vocals and Banjo
Jocie:  Dulcimer run through a guitar amp
Jeff: Drum Kit
Matt: Electric Bass
Graham: Saw

And then on “Love and Altar,” the band gathered around Shirk’s vintage RCA 44bx ribbon microphone – Ben on acoustic guitar, Matt on Banjo, Jeff on Jaw Harp and Jocie on the faintly heard Hammond Organ. Shirk  fed the recorded signal through an EMT 140 plate reverb. When he played a rough mix back for the band a few minutes later, he mixed in loads of reverb against the dry signal.  Worried that it might be too much, he checked with Ben Knox Miller to get his opinion.  Ben said to give it some more. Jocie then chimed in and coined it “the underwater mix.”  I like that.

Enough gushing. We felt honored to have The Low Anthem back in the studio.

The Low Anthem Band Introduction

Exclusive: The Low Anthem – Matter Of Time

Exclusive: The Low Anthem – Boeing 737

Exclusive: The Low Anthem – Love and Altar

Exclusive: The Low Anthem – Burn

Download The Low Anthem HearYa Live Session as a zip file.

Video: The Low Anthem – Boeing 737 (Live at Shirk Music + Sound)

Video: The Low Anthem – Love and Altar (Live at Shirk Music + Sound)

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

matt May 2, 2011 at 12:51 pm

jesus h. christ, Shirk, you have out done your self again…this is the greatest sounding session ive heard. they are amazing. can they come in again and do their entire catalog?

Shirk May 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Thanks, Matt! I really appreciate the feedback. The band deserves all the credit. I had a lot of fun mixing this one. And I think our pal, Justin Edwards, did a spectacular job capturing and editing the video.

Woody May 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Continuing to reinforce my belief that they are one of the top bands going now. Shirk, you’re not half-bad yourself.

tony geeks May 2, 2011 at 11:49 pm

love this song ,played it over and over when i first heard it
long live simple passionate dittys

Pablohoney May 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Oz – fantastic post. Eric and I caught them down in New Orleans at the Jazz & Heritage Festival. They lit it up. It was awesome. Justin Townes Earle also put on an incredible set.

Zach May 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Believe it or not, but Jesus, Etc. was actually written (and recorded) BEFORE 9/11.

Ginger May 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm

If it was possible to wear out a cd (is it?) I would have worn thru’ all of Low Anthems by now. I am partial to this last album tho’ – Smart Flesh. I can’t get enough of it. I still haven’t had the opportunity to see them perform live but when that day presents itself, you’ll be looking at me, the first one in line. Imo, every song is listenable genius…

Mitch Snooks June 16, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Such a great band. I’ve been browsing through your live sessions and most of them are of a brilliance & beauty you don’t hear much these days. Thank you for bringing such great music.

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