Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Zine & Swans

The new issue of the zine (#2 for this year) is out! It's another good one. Check it out here.

Also since they didn't need it here's a review I wrote of the Swans gig I saw a month and a bit ago. It was intense.

Until next time!


Swans @ Koko 28/10/2010
The current economic climate is hard on us all, whether we're penniless
students, city bankers or no-wave auteurs. Or at least it seems to be.
Swans were one of those bands that I always thought would never reform:
their career having encompassed everything from blistering early no wave
to more "mellow" outings with the later albums, their artistic statement
seemed complete. Michael Gira moved on to the Angels of Light, and, to
paraphrase their posthumous live album, the Swans were dead. Or seemingly
so. The promise of a Swans reunion, then, raised some serious questions.
How far was it going to be a genuine resurrection? How far a run-through
of some greatest hits, sure to please the crowd but doing nothing for the
legacy (hello, Pavement!)?
But first on was James Blackshaw, on Gira's own label, whose psychedelic
instrumentals I'd been looking forward to as much as the headliners. His
more recent releases (beginning with last year's The Glass Bead Game)
point the way to a more minimalist, compositional style, with Blackshaw
moving more often to the piano, and as such they sometimes fail to capture
the pure virtuosic bliss that his beautiful twelve-string arrangements
have. This year's All is Falling was an improvement, moving at times more
towards ambient areas, so I was excited to find out what he'd be playing.
In the event, it drew more heavily on the solo guitar works of his early
career. Carefully orchestrated and perfectly executed American
Primitivism, all ringing suspensions and subtle harmonies. But not that
you'd have recognised much of that from the Swans gig, the combination of
a poor mix and the loud and constant chattering of large parts of the
crowd making him largely inaudible. A brave and interesting choice of
support, then, but an unfortunate one. Then, between sets they played
country blues and folk. Was this a pointer as to a more stripped down
sound to come once Swans arrived?
Well, no (which I really should have been expecting from the record they
released in September). A feedback drone gradually began to build, to be
eventually followed by the first member of the band, the amazingly named
Thor Harris (who also wins the most-unlikely-connection prize for being in
Shearwater as well), frantically hammering a set of tubular bells and
introducing that new record's opener, No Words/No Thoughts. One by one,
the other members of the band joined the stage, tuned up, and prepared
themselves. What followed was revelatory.
I've seen some pretty loud and some pretty intense bands. Some that
envelop the audience in a wall of sound and some that make confrontation
the centre of the gig. But nothing quite like Swans. Audience members
apparently used to vomit at their gigs at the sheer volume, and I can
believe that. Perhaps as a kind of proof that this new Swans was just as
powerful as the old, they started with a full-volume excursion into the
most experimental, harsh noise ends of their sound. The set (especially at
first, until senses got dulled by the volume) felt like noise was being
projected straight into the front of my brain, bypassing my ears and
whatever bit processes waves into sounds. The kind of harsh noise that
makes you dizzy: cathartic and breathtaking and awe-inspiring and brutal,
like your skin is slowly being dissolved in a hail of shards of glass. The
kind of noise that bounces off the walls until it replaces all the air in
the room (even in a cavern like Koko) with pure sound and enfolds you
within it. If you've ever seen My Bloody Valentine, the effect is similar
to the noise section they do at the end of You Made Me Realise. But
instead of their warm, comforting feedback, Swans make theirs out of pure
ice. Transcendental, and easily the highlight of the gig for me. Anyway
after about twenty five minutes of that they ratcheted off the volume (if
not the intensity) and played some more conventional songs. Gira is a
truly great frontman, summoning up the spirit of Son House in his persona
of demonically possessed preacher. One of the most affecting moments of
the gig was when the band stopped, leaving him alone, the room totally
silent, invoking "Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ!" repeatedly with such
control that you couldn't help but be moved.
By this point I was pretty exhausted by the sheer intensity, and I'm not
sure how much I actually enjoyed the last few minutes of the gig (which
finished with an encore lasting all of thirty seconds). But it's not a
show I'll ever forget. Swans are very much alive.

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