The Low Anthem grow more charming as the Tiny Desk goes on. The first cool thing is the story that accompanies them. They played at the Newport Folk Festival and when Bob talked to the organizer about them, the organizer said that “Last year, they were volunteers at the festival, picking up trash.”
Then things get more interesting as each of the three songs introduces new instrumentation and ways of making music. They brought a lot of gear to this Tiny Desk.
The first song, “Ghost Woman Blues” opens with strummed acoustic guitar and upright bass. The first surprise comes with the clarinet solo (by harmony vocalist Jocie Adams). Lead singer Ben Knox Miller has a voice not unlike Vic Chesnutt’s and these songs follow along his rather simple and spare style.
The biggest surprises come in the second song, “This God Damn House.” Miller starts the song by playing a small bras horn (not sure what it is). Adams plays more clarinet (in a very cool echoing style) and upright bassist Mat Davidson switches to an old-sounding organ. But the coolest thing is when Miller takes out his cell phone (what!). He has dialed another phone in the room which he then answers. With both phones flipped open (it is 2010 after all), he begins whistling into them, playing with the feedback and echoes and creating a very cool sound to end the song.
It’s a shame there’s a cut to the next song, because I’m sure Bob asked him about that. For the final song, “To the Ghosts Who Write History Books,” Miller switches to the organ (and harmonica, man that guy is talented). Davidson is back on bass and Adams plays a bunch of cymbals with a violin bow (I wish that was a little louder).
I generally don’t like super mellow music like this, but there’s something really captivating about The Low Anthem–the instrumentation, the voices–something, really elevates them.
There is a drum kit set up although no one uses it. I can’t imagine it would have made a lot of difference. Check them out here.
[READ: April 11, 2015] “Kino”
This longer story was a typically enigmatic one from Murakami. In it, he does a great job of melding the real with the psychological, so that things that seem very surface level are actually much deeper.
Kino is a pretty simple man. He was a runner until he pulled his Achilles tendon and could no longer run. So he started working for a shoe company. He sold the premium shoes to good runners. The brand was not super popular, but it had a devoted following. And Kino made decent money for him and his wife.
He was a salesman and often went on business trips. As happens, he came home early one day to find his wife in bed with a fellow coworker. He walked out and never went back.
They had no children and had little in the way of possessions between them and although he was obviously surprised by what he saw, he wasn’t devastated.
He moved out and contacted an aunt who owned a store in another city (her brief back story is fascinating). She was getting older and was looking to sell it so he bought it and turned it into a bar. It sounds like exactly the kind of bar I might enjoy–not very popular, quiet, the bartender doesn’t talk much but he plays his beloved jazz albums on his turntable. The bartender also hates smoking. It sounds great.
After his opening date he has no customers. But then one day a gray cat comes in and settles down in a corner. He doesn’t name the cat but he feeds her and gives her a place to stay. And as if she were a good luck charm, customers start coming in. There is one man who is a regular. Kino is intimidated by him at first–he is quiet and sits in corner reading. He fears the man may be Yakuza, but he never threatens Kino. He drinks his drinks, sometimes he orders food and he always pays in cash (exact change, which I feel is cheap). The man, Kamita, even helps out one night when two loud guys get into fight in the bar.
Then one day Kamita tells Kino that Kino needs to close his bar for a bit. He should leave and travel–he needs to get away. Kino is obviously puzzled. But when the man reveals his connection to the bar, and when Kino realizes that the cat hasn’t been around for a few weeks, he agrees to take a break.
Just who is this guy and what does he know? The beginning of the story is so meticulously described and physical that when the end comes and it drifts off into less tangible ideas, it’s hard to believe it is the same story.
I really enjoy Murakami and some day I hope to dive into his novels too. This story was translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel.