Thursday, October 28, 2010
Coming out of the No Wave scene of early 80s New York alongside such acts as Sonic Youth, Swans have almost never gotten the recognition they deserve. Regarded by many as an obscure avante garde art-rock project, they've really be passed over by the popular media (excepting a brief and unfortunate year long stint signed to RCA records in the early 90s). Without them, though, many of your favorite bands would be in quite different shape than they are. Ask Manynard who was the primary influence for Tool or just about any post-rock group who inspired their sound or Neurosis or whoever and they're likely to mention SWANS.
I was very surprised to hear that a new album was being recorded. I had seen a solo performance by front-man Michael Gira a year prior to the announcement of recording and he made some off hand comment to the audience that he's been apologizing for the brutality of SWANS for years and doesn't want to revisit that. Well I'm glad he did. Even minus his ex-lover and long time collaborator, Jarboe, the album kicks ass. Actually her absence may be part of that....
The only thing better than the album for me was the accompanying tour. Having never seen them live (other than a few solo performances) getting to see their live show was incredible. Often billed as the loudest band ever, they did not disappoint. Sadly, Dr. Girlfriend commandeered the only pair of earplugs I had with me, so I couldn't hear quite right for a few days after the show- such is life. The show opened up with honestly 10 minutes of feedback. Nobody was on stage, but their amps were all on and there was a pedal steel guitar that was feeding back like a mother fucker. I've always dreamed of reaching a state where I can subject my audience to shit like that. After that things got started with an almost 20 minute version of the new album's opening track followed by the rest of the new album along with a few things off of Soundtracks for the Blind (their final album) and the 1987 Children of God Album. None of their middle period material, which was much lighter fare, was played. I could still be the songs pounding in my chest long after the show was over and have memories of the first note being played, which was so loud that it shook a bunch of crap loose from the ceiling. Being masters of rocking out very simple drones and chord progressions, it's difficult to explain the trance like state that this can induce live. Having never done any illegal drugs, I have nothing to compare this experience to. The level of violence is so amped up (and perhaps Gira's contempt for his audience so high) that every time I've seen him live, he has either berated or threatened physical violence on an audience member who was being a douche back.
Here's one of the shorter tracks from the new album called "my birth"
Here's the opener, "no words, no thoughts." The intro is a little long, but if you are pressed for time, go to around 1:30 or 3:30 where things really get going. You can almost feel the evil in this one.
This is video of them playing "My Birth" from the the new record at the show I was at. Check out 0:35 for proof of audience contempt. Also picture, the back of my head.
Here's one of my favorite songs off of their 1987 release Children of God called "Sex God Sex"
And last if you're craving more, somebody in New York recorded almost a whole show with damn good sound quality.