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Review By Jeb Gavin, Photos By Ryan Kelly

I think I’m finally old enough to admit to people (myself included-) I just don’t “get” experimental noise rock. I don’t necessarily hate it. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m unfamiliar with the themes. I can even handle an afternoon of some high concept listening, should I have the time and effort to devote to the process. But hearing no-wave throwback Swans play for hours at the Black Cat this past Wednesday night, all I can think is exhaustion. It was a very good, fascinating show, but I simply cannot digest that much dissonant sound in a concert setting.

Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14

It appeared as though I was the only one. The room was packed to capacity, the show sold out to watch Michael Gira’s band touring for, I believe, the second time in 16 years. Signs all over the club warned patrons this show was louder than most and ear plugs were recommended. I initially forgot mine in the car, ended up having to leave for a moment, fetch them and return for fear of having my ear drums kicked in like doors in a police raid.

Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14

To call what they worked out on stage “atonal” does it a disservice. There was melody, there were points to follow naturally through the progression of songs. But these were heavy, droning soundscapes, punctuated or even blanketed with errant trombone or awash in feedback. Routinely songs would not so much careen as meander off into curious, leaden cul-de-sacs, guitar riffs running themselves into their own ends chased or perhaps led along by a bit of dulcimer. The result is an almost visceral feeling, and I’m all for that. You’re supposed to “feel” music (physically and emotionally) as much as you can listen to it- sound waves are physical pressure. But this is something I’d much rather do at home, with all the time in the world to piece through the layers.

Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14

The irony I suppose is their albums are more accessible than the live show, so digesting the album alone isn’t particularly difficult. The live show, while fascinating, can be overwhelming, given there’s no time to sort out the jazzy, jammy bits of fuzz and skuzz eminating from the speakers. I should amend my thesis then: it’s not that I don’t “get” experimental noise… I don’t want to admit to myself I’m too lazy to put in the work standing right in front of the band. Learned more about myself this time around than I did the music and in this case it hurts worse than being rabbit punched for hours on end by the air itself.

Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14Swans play Black Cat - 5/14/14

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