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Concert review: Swans turn The Bluestone into deaf heaven

Posted by Chris DeVille | July 25, 2013 03:03 PM

FIVE QUICK THOUGHTS ON WEDNESDAY'S SWANS CONCERT AT THE BLUESTONE:

(1) IT WAS SO LOUD. DO YOU NEED ME TO SPEAK UP? I HAVE A BAD HABIT OF NEVER WEARING EARPLUGS TO CONCERTS. NEVER HAVE I BEEN MORE CONSCIOUS OF MY IMPENDING HEARING LOSS. ARE YOU SURE YOU DON'T NEED ME TO SPEAK UP?

(2) I MISSED OPENERS THE UNHOLY TWO AND PHARMAKON DUE TO FINISHING UP MY WIFE'S BIRTHDAY PRESENT, WHICH IS ABOUT THE FARTHEST YOU CAN GET FROM SEEING THE UNHOLY TWO AND (PRESUMABLY) PHARMAKON. ON THE PLUS SIDE, THAT LENT A CERTAIN PURITY TO THE EXPERIENCE: I WALKED IN AS SWANS' INTRODUCTORY DRONE WAS KICKING IN, AND I WALKED OUT WITH THEIR FINAL NOTES STILL RINGING IN MY SKULL.

(3) COULD THERE BE A BETTER VENUE FOR SWANS THAN A CONVERTED CHURCH LIKE THE BLUESTONE? THE ORNATE BACKDROP AND ARCHING STAINED GLASS WINDOWS AMPLIFIED SWANS' BLUNT CACOPHONY AND MADE MICHAEL GIRA'S SPIRITUAL BANTER EXTRA CREEPY — AND THERE WAS A LOT OF IT, FROM THE MONK-LIKE RECITATIONS AT THE BEGINNING TO SOME CARRYING ON IN SPANISH ABOUT THE SON OF GOD AND "LOVE IS BLOOD, BLOOD IS LOVE" AT THE END.

(4) SWANS SHOWS ARE ALL ABOUT LOSING YOURSELF TO THE MOMENT (UH, YOLO?), BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN THEY AREN'T CAREFULLY CRAFTED. SO MUCH COMMUNICATION HAPPENS ON STAGE, WITH GIRA CONSTANTLY DIRECTING THE OTHER BAND MEMBERS USING GESTURES BOTH VERBAL AND PHYSICAL, HALF COACH, HALF CONDUCTOR. THEIR MUSIC IS A COMPLEX ORGANISM; GIRA HAPPENS TO BE THE BRAINS, HEART AND LUNGS, BUT THE GRUELING POWERHOUSE DIRGES UNFOLD WITH ALL THE PARTS IN SYNC, JUST LIKE HE TOLD ME.

(5) THAT SAID, DESPITE ALL THE COMPLEX THOUGHT BEHIND IT, THE MUSIC IS REMARKABLY PRIMAL — LITERALLY THE SOUND OF BEATING A DEAD HORSE, REPACKAGED AS EXQUISITE SONIC TUMULT. SWANS DON'T PLAY BLACK METAL, BUT THEIR MUSIC PUSHES TO THE SAME EXTREMES. GIRA'S STAGE PRESENCE HEIGHTENS THE PHYSICALITY IMMEASURABLY. WHEN HE'S PLAYING GUITAR, HE BOUNDS AROUND FURIOUSLY, HIS EVERY LEAP SENDING THE BAND INTO ONE OF ITS SLEDGEHAMMER SQUALLS. WHEN HE PUTS DOWN HIS INSTRUMENT, THINGS GET EVEN MORE VISCERAL; GIRA FLAILS WILDLY AND UNASHAMEDLY, AS IF THOM YORKE CHALLENGED HIM TO A TERRIFYING LEAD SINGER INTERPRETIVE DANCE CONTEST. ALL THE RIDICULOUSNESS CUTS AGAINST THE OMINOUS TENOR; IN THOSE MOMENTS, HE AND HIS BANDMATES SEEM A LOT MORE HUMAN, EVEN AS THEIR MUSIC REMAINS OTHERWORLDLY.

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