Low stirred up controversy on Saturday the 15th, when they played a 28 minute version of “Do You Know How to Waltz” at the Rock the Garden festival, a concert series held every summer at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center. Andrea Swensson, writing for 89.3 FM The Current, reports that Low’s set was met with almost uniform anger and disbelief:
Scanning the crowd during Low’s set, the reactions seemed muted at best. Most people stood stock-still, staring at the stage, as if trying to discern just what was going on. A thirtysomething man next to me literally had his mouth hanging open for part of the set, while his date kept looking at me nervously and laughing, unsure how to react. And it certainly wasn’t the only surreal thing to have happened that day, with Dan Deacon’s impromptu parking ramp set still fresh in many concertgoer’s minds.
“We paid them to put on a show and they didn’t. They very do literally owe us,” wrote commenter Zetes Johnson. “The expectation is that they play a certain amount of time, and presumably, you know, a couple of songs. I’m not sure it was specifically mentioned on my ticket… but on the marquee, yes, they were listed and, no, they did not play.” A few of my followers on Twitter had similar reactions: They came to a Current-affiliated event to see Low play the singles they’ve been hearing on the Current, and they felt ripped off. One follower in particular responded to my tweet in support of Low’s set by insisting that I would have felt differently if I had paid to get into the event, rather than worked it.
Alan Sparhawk responded in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
The band’s frontman insists the set wasn’t any kind of subversive act, however.
“It was a combo of things,” he explained, recounting how the heavy rain factored into their decision to play it that way, as did the fact that opener Dan Deacon had moved his performance into the garage. “It was just kind of a weird atmosphere, people coming in during the rain, not really knowing where to go. And then we found out our set had to be a little shorter than planned, to get the schedule on track. So we decided to try to do something beautiful.”
You can listen to the performance by clicking here.
I think it sounds great, and I’m jealous that I still haven’t seen them play it live, but I’m not surprised people didn’t like the music. Not surprised that someone would call it “pretentious” or “garbage” or “arrogant.” I hear it all the time about songs that don’t have a straight-forward rhythm or melody: “Anyone could do that. Hell, I could get on stage and make some noise!”
It reminds me of the concluding part of “Experimental Music: Doctrine,” one of John Cage’s essays from Silence:
Question: But, seriously, if this is what music is, I could write it as well as you.
Answer: Have I said anything that would lead you to think I thought you were stupid?
Money just gives poison to that thought. Instead of measuring the art by what we hear, we measure it by the money we’ve spent, or whatever ideas we have about the band beforehand. No one is likely to change their mind about unusual music at a rock festival, especially when what they’ve paid for is familiar entertainment.