Lower Dens in The Button Factory, Dublin, on October 26th 2015
A miserable Bank Holiday Monday evening in Dublin isn’t exactly the most opportune slot for any band to find themselves lumbered with. It’s a night traditionally associated with post-party fatigue and mounting dread of Tuesday’s imminent crash-landing, something which no doubt accounts for the modestly filled Button Factory.
Karen Sheridan, aka Slow Skies, suits the mood of the evening – or maybe exacerbates it – with a low-key set of acoustic numbers. She’s unaccompanied tonight, and a there’s a respectful hush for the duration even if it seems disconcerting to her, the room’s stillness remarked upon more than once. The sound of her fingertips scraping up and down the fretboard on Realign is as pronounced as her voice and the guitar’s softly plucked notes, while Dancing – her “only attempt to make people dance” – ups the tempo slightly but fails in its attempt to move feet. It’s just not that kind of night.
Lower Dens have similarly downsized for the occasion, with guitarist Walker Teret absent from this current tour. Their last visit to Dublin was in 2011 supporting Deerhunter – who are due to play the same venue next week (“We’ll leave ’em a note“) – but this time around it’s the Baltimore group’s turn to take the top billing. Their latest album, ‘Escape From Evil’, takes a more pop-oriented slant than their previous denser, darker releases, and it’s this record that takes up the bulk of tonight’s selection.
“My throat sounds funny“, Jana Hunter tells us with a guttural giggle after an early Quo Vadis, but her voice is the most forceful instrument that the band possess. Teret pre-recorded his guitar parts for the tour, but bassist Geoff Graham and drummer Nate Nelson pick up the slack, the latter triggering backing tracks alongside the backbeat. The rhythm section takes control of Your Heart Still Beating, slowly accelerating as the synths join. Graham seems absorbed in a slow-burning I Am The Earth, eyes closed as Hunter sways with the vocal before strapping on her guitar for a chiming solo halfway through.
Hunter switches between playing guitar and harnessing an unadorned vocal throughout the set – it seems that the instrument would only get in the way of the more emotive projections, although the jangling guitar lines from their absent guitarist fill the spaces. The band forego the usual walk off-applaud-return encore rigmarole, opting instead to just play the set out, with Hunter on her knees stage front for one final soaring vocal. Bodies in the crowd seem to be moving a bit more than before, but it never really gets out of a gentle hip sway.
After a sudden bout of convulsive dancing, Hunter grabs her jacket and walks off with a wave, leaving the band to close things down. Lower Dens certainly can’t be accused of outstaying their welcome with a dozen songs in forty-five minutes – one punter’s request for seventeen more tunes is wishful thinking – but you just get the feeling they’ve had enough. Hunter’s vocal is relentlessly remarkable, but there’s little fire to tonight’s performance. If it was any other night maybe blame could be placed at the band’s door, or maybe the subdued crowd’s, for the lacklustre run-through. This is down to that cursed Bank Holiday Monday, though – we’re sure of it.