As most of you are aware by now, I tend to become slightly long winded when it comes to reviewing shows that have impacted my life in a major way, so you might find some relief in the fact that I am at a complete loss for words when it comes to last night’s Swans event. Trying to write about what Swans do to those who dare cross the line between reality and Micheal Gira is truly akin to dancing about architecture. Mere words are obliterated before they hit the screen, leaving nothing more than orphaned letters lost in a boiling ocean of alphabet soup. As a member of the audience, you are alone in that ocean, grasping at thoughts that terminate with each trembling thunderclap — until the twilight is no longer visible from the trenches in which you dwell.
And I mean that in the best possible way.
Here are the facts: Swans are the loudest band I have ever seen. My earplugs were literally vibrating out of my head. At one point in the evening, at the first climax of the “The Seer”, I made the mistake of taking them out. I was rewarded with a white-hot blast of lightning that shot in one ear and out the other. I could barely concentrate enough to get them back in before going deaf.
The vibrating bones of the audience acted as the 7th member of the latest incarnation of a band which started in 1982. A line-up which includes frontman/conductor/all-around-genius Michael Gira, stoic guitarist Christoph Hahn, hairy shirtless multi-instrumentalist Thor Harris, bassist Chris Pravdica, drummer Phil Puleo, and the gum-chomping Norman Westberg on pedal steel. And while Gira might be the ring that rules them all, every single person on that stage proved himself a master in the art of music as a destructive force, as well as turning destruction into beauty.
The controlled chaos was unbiased in its choice of poison — apocalyptic folk, middle eastern chant, post-punk noise, intense industrial suffocation — nothing was off limits, as long as it was performed at the highest decibel level possible.
The set lasted 2 and a half hours. 7 songs were performed, with an average runtime of 15 minutes per song (not counting the 45-minute centerpiece, “The Seer”). Playing with that level of intensity, for that length of time, is nothing less than shocking. Honestly, it was for that reason alone that I stayed until the end. When Gira, who is pushing 60-years-old, asked “Can you tolerate one more?”, I really didn’t know if I could. But damn if I was going to complain about an early work morning and bleeding ears when there was more sweet damage to be done.
The show opened with a solo set from Jamie Stewart (a man who contemplated suicide on his blog just last month) as Xiu Xiu. Sitting alone on a chair, holding onto various instruments and homemade noise machines (as if for dear life), Stewart poured his heart and guts out to a ever growing crowd. Powerful, yet almost hard to watch, it was a unique set from a truly tortured soul.
The most amazing thing about the whole night is that despite how devastating these two performances were (each in their own way), I left the venue feeling incredibly alive — almost as if the darkness had been scared away by the honestly in which the artists faced their own demons — Swans with planet crushing sound, and Xiu Xiu by exposing every dirty secret to a room full of strangers, hence leaving nothing harmful inside.
To Be Kind
She Loves Us
Dangerous You Shouldn’t Be Here
I Won’t Share You (The Smiths cover)
Rose of Sharon
Fast Car (Tracy Chapman cover)
I Luv Abortion