Swans Show Review

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Venue: Gothic Theater

Location: Denver, Colorado

Date: 09/10/16

Inebriation Level: Behaved Myself

Describe Swans music in one word: Ugly. Throughout their 34 year career, Michael Gira and crew have been hard to classify, ranging from Post-Rock to Experimental to Noise Rock. However one thing remains consistent: Take all the dissonance our ears hate and musicians are taught to avoid, and that ugliness is Swans.

I discovered Swans with their 2012 album The Seer, which ended up being hands down my favorite of the year. Their followup in 2014 To Be Kind was much more abrasive and punishing, yet I still had to agree with many in the music nerd community and call it one of the best of the year. Now with the recent release of The Glowing Man, I daresay those dudes have done it again.

Getting somebody to join me in a quest to hear some loud and ugly music was going to be a challenge, and I was prepared to fly solo and hope no one noticed that weirdo by himself like my last Post-Rock show catching Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Then I remembered I had a friend named Swan. No one would want to miss a show with their namesake, not even Swan, so away we went to the Gothic Theater in the one and only Englehood, Colorado.

We arrived to a maybe half-full venue, with a crowd that was disappointingly devoid of too many hipsters. Using my uncanny ability to scout out the best spot in the house, we posted up behind the ADA section with a clear view of the stage. Since I shared that sweet tip with you, make sure to use it anywhere but Denver. You’re welcome.

The band walked out on the stage and looked like a bunch of cranky old men ready to play Lynyrd Skynyrd covers at the local Elks Lodge. To say they were unassuming was an understatement with the onslaught of noise we were about to receive.

Michael Gira took center stage, and after a menacing glare to the audience, turned his back. He faced the band and began concocting noise like an evil sorcerer. Slowly he began painting his canvas, for almost thirty minutes, as noise and quiet filled the venue on their staple show opener “The Knot.”

By the time they launched into the brutal “Screen Shot,” my ears were officially shot. It wasn’t so much that one element was loud, but the collective noise of the six members created a deafening life of its own. The overtones and distortion of every member entranced in their own world filled the venue, and the noise above you and behind you was just as loud as what was coming from the stage.

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The set list then stuck with all songs from The Glowing Man for the rest of the show, and even though they only played 6 songs, the show clocked in over two hours. Because each song was so long, the onslaught of noise didn’t stop. I began to feel physically worn down from the show. A little over an hour in, I genuinely felt like I’d been constantly punched in the face.

As punishing as the noise surrounding the audience in the venue was, the silence was just as powerful. After the 30 minute onslaught, leaving us weak to our knees, it was over. There was a buzz of an amplifier, some hooting and hollering, and a dull ringing in our ears. Then, the abuse began again.

I’ve never been to a concert where I wanted the show to continue just as much as I wanted to be 100 miles away. All I could think of was sitting down, in my quiet house, safe from this abuse I was taking. Yet still I stood there, while Michael Gira and company destroyed my ears with music so punishing, I would be feeling it the next day.

They closed out the show with “The Glowing Man,” the 30 minutes monster off of their new LP. The breakdown about 10 minutes in was so loud, they hit the threshold of pain. Then suddenly, the real power of the song came, with just the deep thumping bass and drums, shaking your feet up to your spine.  The dynamics continued until the end of the show, and when they bowed to the audience, I breathed a sigh of relief. I went home almost certain I was deaf, immediately took two Advil, fell asleep for 10 hours, and woke up feeling hungover. Damn, that really was one Hell of a show.

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What makes Swans so important is their uncompromising artistic daring. They won’t play hits, they won’t play Verse-Chorus-Verse, they won’t resolve chord progressions, they won’t sing love songs, and they certainly won’t turn down the volume. Michael Gira has made his life’s work pursuing this vision, one that’s ugly and sometimes painful. All of their albums can be hard to get through, but you force yourself to listen to them, and come out much better on the other side. The live show is just that. They abuse you and they punish you like no other band could, but it is definitely worthwhile.

Michael Gira announced that this current tour and album will be the last for the current lineup that’s been around since 2010. Maybe he’s tired after 34 years and this means he’s calling it quits. After all, he had to release The Gate last year as a means of fundraising for the current album. All of this while Pop stars and Rap moguls rule the airwaves with worthless songs written by major label writers sticking to a tried and true format. That’s not real music, because that’s not art. Swans are true artists, unafraid to pursue something unconventional. So don’t be afraid of music that’s loud, abrasive, noisy, and punishing. Most of all, don’t be afraid of music that’s ugly.

4/5: Awesome

4 Records

Set List:

The Knot

Screen Shot

Cloud of Forgetting

Cloud of Unknowing

Some Things We Do / The World Looks Black

The Glowing Man

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