Saturday, October 20, 2012

Live Review: Swans

My third live experience with Micheal Gira and Company. I had some trepidation about the venue a new arts complex called Terminal west, Tool artist was doing some sort of hippie freak out next door so while waiting for the doors to open dozens of scrambled burn outs wandered by confused as to what Swans were some even attempted together in line for tickets until informed they weren't the wrong building.

Once inside the venue reminded,e of the Bronze, Sunnydale's club in the Buffy the Vampire show, so it was disappointing when Dingos Ate My Baby did not open. Hawk and a Hacksaw did open and the duo played a set of experimental gypsy folk. While it wasn't really my thing, they played there instruments well, though there sounds sounded to similar despite my friend who likes them at told me all of there albums are different.

Swans took the stage at 10:30 and wasted no time to launch into the sonic flogging. Gira himself describes their live show as being " soul up lifting and body destroying" , damage control on the destruction part was aided by the earplugs distributed at the bar. I went the first twenty minutes or so with out there buffer and then experimented with them as I was up against the stage for the entire show turned to the right facing the flailing Gira as he conducted the band with fervent hand gestures. So the first half of the show I kept one ear plug in my left ear, used both for the second half taking them out for portions where I wanted too not use protection and get the full sensation.

The touring line up was the same as last year with Thor Harris on percussion , Norman Westberg on guitar, Christoph Hahn on lap steel guitar, Philip Puleo on drums and the newest member bassist Chris Pravdica. Pravdica appeared more settled in with rest of the band and his playing was solid.

They opened with " To be kind " and the set was half songs for their newest album " the Seer" including the thirty two minute title track. The rest of their set was new unrecorded numbers which fit nicely against the material from " the seer ". One song was very meaty and came the closet to be an actual metal song than Swans other work. Live the are a much different animal than their albums which show a broader range of wht the band does. On stage it's an exercise in keeping the tension churning and building to pounding crescendos.

Gira's voice was a more resonant croon, than the rasp at the edges it had had last year. This could be from the bluesier tone " My Father will guide me..." called for or his voice is just more warmed up from more frequent touring. This was most noticeable on the song "Avatar". He keeps onstage banter to a minimum, addressing the sound man to turn the house lights on so he can see the people who came there for the experience and to turn the air conditioner down. He later asked the front row not to take pictures as it made him nervous and then in closing commented on how Atlanta was the home of new condos and felled trees, he knew because he had lived here for four years.

The percussion was tightly synced Harris and Puleo were astounding as the hammered the droning punches together to accent the very tribal nature of what Swans do. Always hypnotizing the show had a noted effect on me, lending credence to Gira's self proclaimed uplifting nature to their music. I arrived at the show on the tail of a shit storm day, littered with obnoxious cunts of varied degrees but when I lost myself in the throb of of their music, the inner turbulence dissipated. This brought me to the conclusion to listen to more Swans and less death metal when if find myself running my gas tank on anger all day.

Judging from the crowd I was not the only one who felt the effect. In the front of the stages, people clutched themselves with eyes closed as the took in the sound enveloping them in an almost spiritual reverence. Live you feel Swans as much as you hear them. Part of this is due to the sheer volume the play at, the rest is the soaring nature of their guitar patterns which carve frequencies rather than just riff off of chords. It is also said Gira wants the air conditioning off to create the feeling of an Indian sweat lodge.

The crowd it's self was an interesting mix though heavy on the college aged indie rock hipster type kids, a demographic shift from the old goth crowd in the number of actual goths was limited to maybe two dozen a number about the same as the number of metal shirts I saw which ranged from the obvious Neurosis to Negura Bunget. I did spot an Obituary shirt but from judging by the gay mail man shorts this was for irony. I am guessing the decline in the goth contingent is some have allowed their to return to its natural color and re trying to blend in with "normal adults" in daily life or they know the Swans are sticking to their more current material with out Jarboe.

It could have been the mix but I noticed a more defined distinction between Gira and Westberg's guitar parts. Westburg kept the steady tension taunt accenting the abrasion as needed while Gira strummed more simmering chord progressions. This approach left Hahn to float over them with a layer ambiance and adding chaos to the dynamic builds in songs like "the apostate" where Gira's vocals live took on a snarl of a stooges era Iggy.

Overall, Swans are of course the most intense live act on the road and a clear example on what it means to be heavy without being metal. If my buzz from the show doesn't wear off by the end of the month Converge is going to seem juvenile when I see them in November. They maintained a level of musical integrity and relevance that's legendary and are an act any lover of intense or heavy music should catch after all they have had such a profound influence on everything from post rock to metal to industrial. Granted they are my favorite band , but I think the bias is in check s I went with some one who knows them by my t shirt and incessant rambling only and they went away wanting to hear more. So take there word not mine.

Set list
To be kind
She loves us
The Seer
The Apostate

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