Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Post punkers Swans bulldoze the building and bury you under rubble

They rose from the grime and grit of the early 80s New York art scene, but now Swans have finally arrived and they're here to kick your ass.  Frontman Michael Gira has led his noise/no wave project on a hell of a resurgence lately. They shocked the world with their 2012 album The Seer, a confrontational album that at times baffles the senses and creates a sense of pure dread, but at no time permits you to look away. Their current tour showcases material from their latest effort, To Be Kind, a two hour opus which follows The Seer's lead but manages to shock and amaze in entirely new ways.

Michael Gira serves as the demented conductor for Swans.

On stage, their sound is based almost purely upon repetition and hypnotism. Gira, along with guitarist Norman Westburg, channels a pummeling, punishing attack which frequently consists o strumming the same chord again, repeatedly, over and over again in an effort to pound you into submission.

The set opened strongly with non album track "Frankie M."  Some of their cuts tend to get pretty murky, but "Frankie M" thankfully contains enough structure and melody to qualify as a quality dark art rock song.  That led into "A Little God in My Hands," the lead single from To Be Kind,  which is the closest they have to a legitimate 6-7 pop/rock single. Unfortunately, the flow was broken up during the early part of their set due to problems they kept having with their amp which forced them to stop after the first song and then again after the second.

The set got more esoteric as it went on, but Gira was a great frontman.  During one part, he would jump into the air and swing the neck of his guitar toward the ground, then he would walk to the other side of the stage, then turn around and leap into the air again as he was walking back toward the other side of the stage. He did this four or five times, then just started leaping repeatedly in one place several times while playing that one riff.

Michale Gira and Norman Westburg conjure up an eerie drone.

The greatest moment was the pummeling two note riff that opens "Bring the Sun." There are few riffs that distill the band's essence better than that, and it signified a genuine catharsis.  "Black Hole Man" was a great way to close the set, as he proclaimed himself a black hole man in a voice that sounded like a demented circus ringmaster.

There is also a strong art house vibe to their live show. After the second song, Gira started doing some weird dancing, shaking his wrists all around. It looked like his take on Native American spirit dancing. From time to time he would just spit some gobbledygook into the microphone. At one point he even briefly licked the mic, rolling his tongue all around it. 

This band was loud. They were dangerously loud. I took out my ear plugs a few times throughout the show just to get a feel for their volume. I can't imagine having seen them without ear plugs.

It was a good show and I liked it, but not among the best I've seen. There's a little too much repetition, and monotony can set in after awhile.

Xiu Xiu opened and it was the worst fucking thing I have ever witnessed. It was nothing but 30 minutes of piercing speaker feedback with occasional racecar sounds and rolling thunderclaps thrown in. Their website described it as Merzbow influenced death drone. It was such an abysmal experience.

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