And Now, A Few Words From The Editor About The Low Road (Or, The Sounds Of Year Zero In New Philadelphia)
It could be Bissinger’s reading from A Prayer For The City last week; it could be the gentle tug of 1990s nostalgia that has been in the air around here for a little while now. But for sure, with the occasion of the great Philly band of that era, The Low Road, reuniting for two shows this Saturday night at the Tin Angel, it’s worth thinking about, for a few moments at least, the very early 1990s in Philadelphia. As getting re-acquainted with A Prayer For The City will show (transplants: read it/lifers: read it again), 1990 was something of a Year Zero for the Philadelphia we know and actually enjoy living in now. Beginning in 1990, Bissinger’s book chronicles the Rendell mayoral administration as well as the subtle philosophical shift that slowly but surely began to infect us all. This was the same year that The Low Road got together and began gigging in coffeehouses (which were then brand new and totally foreign and exciting to all of us) and smoky, small bars.
Listening to the band’s smart, wry and still heartfelt tunes today — thankfully much of their recorded output is now on Bandcamp — it’s nevertheless hard to put into words how an all-acoustic, unassuming band of folk-rockers captured the city’s imagination. But they did. In a short span of time, The Low Road went from those coffeehouses to, well, everywhere. They were the first local band I can think of (and maybe first ever) to play at the Art Museum. Or Channel 12, for that matter. The style and cadence of WXPN’s entire format for the 1990s, to these ears, was based on a handful of really choice Low Road tunes. If you’re in the American roots music scene in Philly, you have The Low Road — and Go To Blazes and The Rolling Hayseeds, too — to thank for it. They made the building blocks of the part of your audience that still actually purchases CDs at your gigs. Best of all, the tunes hold up. For these ears, they are forever locked in a certain time and certain place where we almost didn’t know how good we had it. But then, eventually, things got even better still.
And looking back now, I think I can see what made so many of us love this band so much then: For a then-tiny but rapidly expanding subset of Philadelphians (educated, civic-minded or at least in love with this place, not averse to corduroy, I could go on…), The Low Road was the best representation of ourselves and what we perceived as the way forward here in Philly. The people who loved this band are the people who opened the first bar in your neighborhood you could go to and feel welcome — a decade before you moved there. They were the people who wrote for the papers you liked to read. They were the people with whom you drank and smoked. They were the people who’d become your exes and your spouses. And just like you did, when everything else started happening for-real for-real here, it always felt like they kind of got here first. And oh, how they should have stayed.
The Low Road’s early show this Saturday night at the Tin Angel is sold out; tickets for the 10pm show remain.