Low Duo, Robert Galloway and Alistair James: Oporto, Leeds

Tonight, Low Duo are playing The Gaslight Club, ‘Leed’s First NYC, Greenwich Village style, Hootenanny’ housed in one half of Oporto bar near the Corn Exchange. Walking through a thick curtain joining Oporto’s two rooms, I’m struck; a Gothic mural sprawls across the far wall depicting an infernal French theatre’s stage. While masked, antic figures walk the boards, demons loom large around the image, overseeing or orchestrating the performance. Above the stage reads ‘COMEDIE/DRAME’.

It might be Low Duo’s first trip to sunny Leeds, but they’ve found just the right place to début. Firstly, The Gaslight isn’t po-faced for all its intimacy and beard-potential. The compère flits between highly accomplished finger-picking and judging the ‘Fish As Bands’ competition. Between his songs of small town indignation (‘The King Of Leeds’ is a song about a ‘knobhead’ who likes to smash wing mirrors) and searching for the other acts’ guitar leads, he’s having a chat with the next act on. It’s the kind of environment where the soulful Scarborian Alistair James can blow his cheerful heartbreaks through the pews, replete with laid-back confidence. Afterwards, and perfectly naturally, the much more apprehensive Robert Galloway navigates a set of immediately catchy ballads, the bitter-sweet instinct of Lee Mavers held to his aching tongue.

By 9.45pm, Low Duo are ready. Their music has tragi-comedy in its boots and compliment the surrounds. The Greenwood brothers’ music is brooding yet percussive, sometimes venturing into atmospheric Cure-ish terrority and at others creeping along electric guitar lines or above discordant chords. Opener ‘Fifteen Years’ showcases Leigh’s tremulous vocals, which see-saw from Thom Yorke-style falsetto to crying slur accompanied by Adam’s dynamic, drum-and-strum fretwork.

The theme here is sexual and romantic desperation. In ‘Ambulance’, the metaphorical death of an accident victim and a paramedic’s remorse shares the close attention to personal detail as their lost-love songs, chronicling the ebb of responsibility in a declining affair. The paramedic’s helplessness, ‘All the mistakes/I did and didn’t make/… She died like a wave’, is not about a victim or lover as much as it is about expectations of men being active and heroic against an inevitable failure of control, the inevitable breakup. However, desperation lyrically is coupled to the energy of Leigh and Adam’s arrangement causing an underlying optimism even at its bleakest. Anger presupposes a past and future, and the tone is consistently ‘coming to terms’ rather than ‘giving up’.

Another song ‘Of All The Girls’, Leigh can’t help but taking the image of Adam, Eve and the apple as a half-joke of epic proportions, singing ‘Your golden and delicious/In your body/Not your heart’. It’s with that attitude to woman that Low Duo frame their songs of love lost, or love never found. As the set winds down and the Gaslight Club slowly starts to disperse, I realised the hellish mural was still there hanging above. But the ‘Fish As Bands’ winner pops back into my mind; Piranha-rama’ won somebody a free pint tonight. Which is much more important.