Swans are arguably the kings of experimental music. Whether it be them rising to the top of the grim no wave scene in the early 80's, the as-weird-as-it-gets headf*ck of 'Soundtracks For The Blind' or their recent efforts since reuniting in 2010, Swans have always been in a field of one when it comes to the strange and they only seem to get better as time goes on. With 2014's 'To Be Kind' and last year's 'The Glowing Man', Swans seem to be at their peak having managed to craft these super long, and drawn out records, but being able to keep you firmly on course with them for the journey they take you on, thanks to tons of groove and hypnotic charm. They hit Leeds tonight for a show that nothing can prepare you for.
Before Swans melt you though, Little Annie delivers an incredibly moving, tender set. Her songs are delicate and soulful and her voice is so warm and charming, that it feels like a blanket comforting you. If you like your music gentle, check this lady out.
For the first several minutes, it feels like they're building something, with creaking, ringing out feedback from minimal playing of their instruments. Their structure develops into a monolith, that won't be taken down by anything for the next two and a half hours Swans play. There's a lot to Swans' sound that makes them impenetrable and the first and most important aspect is how sinfully loud Swans play. Seriously, even when it comes to the light, gentle parts of their songs, it'll leave your body shaking and your ears clinging for dear life, probably because of the several amps Swans have with them. Naturally when Swans do come at you in full force, with barrages of sledgehammer like guitar stabs, it leaves you feeling fragile.
Another thing that makes Swans so powerful, is the many things going on. At first glance, the drawn out, sluggish epics seem to be just about drones, but whether it be Phil Puleo's commanding drumming, Christoph Hahn's blistering noise on lap-steel guitar or, frontman Michael Gira's haunting croon. There are many threads weaved into this fabric and with each element being so possessive, but each doing its own thing, you feel your body getting pulled in different directions, like multiple puppet masters each having strings on you. Something may be slow and hypnotic, whilst another aspect is being noisy and chaotic and you'll find your body to be in a state of option paralysis, not knowing how to react to such music. However, everything's woven so seamlessly that you're locked in at all times, no matter what's going on.
It can't be emphasised enough how fricking loud this band are. The closest thing that comes to a sing along tonight is the tribal like chants of 'Screen Shot' and you can see some kids at the front yelling the words as loud as they can, right in each other's faces, to see if they'd be able to hear each other, but you're not going to make any noise that will be heard in a Swans show unless you're armed with their loud know how.
It's always impressive when a band that are a few decades old can still kill it live, but in the case of Swans, it's almost like all those years were needed for them to get to this level of impressive. Like it would take years of knowledge, study and experience to be this skilled at their craft. When this show comes to an end, it feels like you've crashed back to Earth from another realm. Swans have a hold of you so tightly and for so long, that it takes time to readjust back to the outside world when they let you go. No matter how much time goes by, you're going to want them to take a hold of you again someday.
Swans perform The Glowing Man live:
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