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Witnessed

Swans: 2011-04-14

18/05/11  ||  Khlysty

Seeing Swans live is experiencing the sound as a physical entity. From the moment the band took the stage, to the final strains of the last song, some two hours later, the poor schmucks who decided to visit “Gagarin 205” and pay tribute to one of the most name-checked bands to ever NOT play metal were brutally pounded and pounded and pounded some more by Swans’ beyond-the-threshold-of-pain volume. The fact that most of the audience (yours truly included…) left what shoulda/coulda been a torturous evening with an ecstatic look on their faces is testimony enough that Swans, freshly re-minted by the band’s leaded, M. Gira, remain one of the most vital and harrowing bands in the whole fucking universe.

Okay, a little history lesson, here, for the uninitiated. Swans formed in New York around 1980 and for the first few years of their existence, they became notorious as one of the loudest, heaviest and most violent bands EVER. Their slow, bass-heavy, drum-heavy grinding sound, coupled with Gira’s howls and a suffocating intensity made them the blueprint upon which the sound of a gazillion other bands (from Godflesh to Neurosis, just to name a couple of the most famous ones) would be based. Later on, they added Jarboe and they took a turn towards more melodic and “internalized”, though not less nihilistic and dark, music. According to the urban legend, they split up in 1997 and Gira tried to exorcise his boozing demons.

A year ago, M. Gira decided to reform the band. He self-financed their newest record (“My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky”), put it out on his Young God label and took the band on tour. And, boy, oh, boy, what a tour is it! I mean, these guys (at least Gira, guitarist Norman Westberg and pedal steel player/noisenik Christoph Hahn…) are OLD!
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So, how the fuck can they do this, night in-night out? How can they play draining, two-hour-long shows each night, at beastly, scary volumes? And, how can they keep their frightening intensity intact? I really don’t know and I’m not very sure that I wanna find out, either.

All I know is that the six ugly bastards that took the stage played one of the best (if not THE best) shows that I’ve ever seen in my whole life, even with my ears bleeding from the volume of the sound and puffs of plaster and dust raining from the roof of the joint, shaken by the beast of the band’s punishing sound. After a long intro of pounding drums, clanging tubular bells and piercing pedal steel, the whole band crashed upon us with a scary rendition of “No Words/No Thoughts”, the opener of their newest record. And then, they proceeded to pulverize our senses with six more long, sickening, repetitive (but never redundant) pieces of the loudest, most harrowing, most scary music ever to be performed before yours truly.
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And, it was not just the volume; neither was it just the fact that Phil Puleo (drums), Chris Pravdica (bass) and Thor Harris (dulcimer, percussion, vibraphone, lots of other shit) created a frightening rhythmic background that put to shame even the most brutal rhythm sections of death metal; nor was it the jagged, metallic shards that flew uncontrollably from Hahn’s pedal steel and Westberg’s trashed Telecaster. No, the most scary and intense moment of the show came during “Sex God Sex” (and, man, do these guys know how to give titles to their songs…), when in total silence Gira demanded that “JESUS! COME DOWN! COME DOWN NOW! COME DOWN!” (you could almost see the poor guy gathering his robes and running like a puppy, such was the command and intensity of Gira’s voice and posture).

The fact that through all the noise, volume and intensity Swans were able to provide us with moments of sublime clarity (as during “Little Mouth”, the encore to end all encores) is testimony to the band’s improbable creativity. But, hey, you know what? Fuck that shit! Swans played a ceremony of sorts, cathartic, trance-inducing, totally encompassing. This was not a live show, per se, it was more a declaration of intent: that, as Gira put it at Young God’s site “SWANS ARE NOT DEAD”. You couldn’t find a more appropriate way of making sure that this statement is fucking true…

10

  • Who: Swans (opening act: Hildur Ingveldardóttir Guðnadóttir).
  • When: April, the 14th, 201.
  • Where: Gagarin 205, Athens, Greece.
  • Setlist
  • 01. No Words/No Thoughts
  • 02. Jim
  • 03. Sex God Sex
  • 04. The Apostate
  • 05. I Crawled
  • 06. Avatar
  • 07. Eden Prison
  • Encore
  • 08. Little Mouth