All words: Sean Gray — All photos: Nathan Jurgenson
Reunions are a tricky thing, and I try to avoid them as much as I can. Most of the time, the last way I wanna spend my Saturday night is watching 50-somethings recapture their “glory days.” Swans are a bit different. I had heard the reunion shows were phenomenal, but I still was skeptical. Needless to say I was blown away if only be the sheer force on the new material done live. When was the last time you were stoked to only hear new stuff from a band 25+ years old?
A Hawk and A Hacksaw opened: they sounded like something a bunch of nerds who buy every Tzadik release would be into. It almost sounded like minimalist Middle Eastern world music. Mid-way through their set I was craving kabobs, and wondering how awesome a tag team of Hawk and Hacksaw Jim Duggin in the WWE would be.
Swans started right out of the gate with an unrecorded new song called “To Be Kind.” It continued the dramatics of their newest LP, The Seer, but seemed even more focused. The Seer could rival any LP they did in the 80s and I don’t think it would be a stretch to say it could be in the Swans top three for recorded output. Michael Gira is one of the most commanding front men I have ever seen. It’s interesting how he can be almost a conductor of sorts but also be the most manic at the same time. “Avatar”, a choice cut from The Seer displayed throughout the pure control percussionists Phil Puleo and Thor Harris have on this material. Their use of chimes, hammered dulcimer, and other types of percussion only add to the bombastic bursts of guitar. The last two minutes of the song just exploded and you can feel a sort of urgency not seen in many bands half their age today. This era of Swans makes bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor who attempt in some ways to do the same thing, sound irrelevant .
It was nice to hear an old cut like “Coward”, but I do have to agree with what a good friend of mine told me after he saw them in NYC a few days before: “Swans are proto nu metal, think about that”, and after hearing this song live and even revisiting a some of the LPs in the 80s, I can’t really say hes wrong. I couldn’t help but think of that song “Down With The Sickness” or whatever as the slow pace of “Coward” dragged on. Hearing Gira’s vocals on this live really underscored the fact no matter how great new Swans output is, the stuff they did in the 80s is beyond compare.
I also was well aware that on this tour Swans play for over 2+ hours, but it really didn’t feel that way at all. Also from what I understand they usually make sure the AC is turned off which only lends to the atmosphere. While I can’t say I’d want any more then that 2+ hours, the epic “Apostate” ended the night–clocking in at about twenty minutes. This song was to me the center piece of The Seer, basically taking you through everything Gira has done up till now.
It was interesting to see the mix of people here, ranging from old school goth, drone dorks, “I listen to offensive noise” guys, the record collector, and even the “I saw this got BNM on p4k” person. While it looked as if some of the older crowd was expecting a bit more from their pigfuck heyday or whatever you wanted to deem them back in the 80s, most stuck around taking the show in like an endurance test, but an endurance test you enjoyed. One thing was clear though: you not only left with your money’s worth, but also you jaw on the floor. The only show I can compare this to in terms of sheer flooring moments and energy was The Boredoms a few years back. While this show didn’t quite match that, it’s safe to say if you missed Swans this past weekend, you missed something no YouTube video or review could ever do justice to.
- Hawk And Hacksaw: