Swans are notorious for being one of the loudest and most brutal live acts ever and while they have greatly differentiated and softened up over the past thirty years, they show absolutely no sign of stopping anytime soon as they subject their fans to a mesmerizing and deafening performance at Belfast’s Mandela Hall.The room is half-empty but is gradually filling up as support act as South Korean cellist, Okkyung Lee, takes the stage to play an improvised set. Her twenty five minute set feels as if it is going on for hours but it was really quite fascinating to watch as she was capable of doing things I never thought anyone could ever do with a cello, e.g. she was playing it so fast to the point in which smoke started to come out of it – she left the stage not saying a word as she was well aware that her performance left an impression on the crowd. Okkyung Lee’s set made me more excited for what Swans had to offer later on that night.
It’s now half nine and the venue has filled up, everyone is anxious and excited waiting for Michael Gira and his band to come out to play. Thor Harris takes the darkly lit stage and starts hitting at a gong for an extended period of time while drummer, Phil Puelo, joins the stage and adds to the noise. Each member came out individually to help create the noise, preparing the crowd for their first song of the night, Frankie M, a twenty minute long Post-Rock track that prepares the crowd for the deafening experience they have to offer.
Michael Gira addresses the crowd and gives us his very best Elvis impression before they start off the very groovy To Be Kind track, A Little God in My Hands. Now, if you were to see Swans live today then you will instantly notice how different they play the already existing album tracks in a live setting as they are much longer and contain more improvisation and variation than ever – Michael Gira has stated in interviews that Swans mostly play new tracks that no-one has heard before to try them out in a live setting and because they are already tired of an album they just released as they have been playing it for years previous – hence the reason why their sets are mostly comprised of tracks that will more or less appear on their new record once they record it.
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Each band member is giving it all they’ve got through the set and it’s evident through bassist, Christopher Pravdica’s very hard-hitting playing to the very long notes Michael Gira is playing over and over again with his guitar while providing wailing vocals that you could probably hear from a mile away. The set is loud to the point that it’s unbearable to listen to it without the use of earplugs; I left the show after their two and a half hour set unable to hear that much at all even though I was wearing earplugs for nearly the whole duration of the show
Michael Gira and his band showed absolutely no remorse for how long and how loud they played as they played only six tracks at a deafening volume for a full two and a half hours. Thankfully, the show was not as loud as their seemingly brutal shows during the ’80s when they were a very heavy Industrial / No Wave act and it clearly shows with their significant change in sound and with Michael Gira being at the ripe old age of 62, so I completely doubt that he is still capable of going off the stage and beating crowd members in orange jumpsuits that are ‘pogoing’ to his music like he did thirty three years ago.
The last track they played during their long drawn out set was a medley of Bring The Sun, from To Be Kind, and a new track, Black Hole Man. Bring The Sun was definitely much louder and noisier than the studio version but they mainly just played through the middle of track which was a constant repetition of very harsh playing from every member of the band before they suddenly launched into the very Post-Punk / No Wave track that was Black Hole Man. This track was essentially a combination of the sound they have going on now mixed with some of their very early material dating back to their 1982 self-titled EP and was definitely the highlight of the night. The band were playing a repetitive groove with Michael Gira providing his very erratic vocals before it turned into a very large wall of noise that happened to be louder than anything they played that night; the track went on for over a half an hour and essentially proved to everyone that Michael Gira and co. show absolutely no sign of stopping anytime soon and still have a very long career ahead of them.
I was disappointed to see that they didn’t play any pre-To Be Kind material but it was expected as Swans are a band that constantly seem to keep pushing forward and playing things that have yet to be recorded rather than dwelling in the past all of the time like a million other acts out there. Michael Gira has confirmed that the band are going to start recording their new album this September and if any of the new tracks they played on that Sunday night appear on it in any shape or form then there’s an obvious reason to be incredibly excited for it to come out.
If you ever have the chance to see Swans play then please, please go ahead and do it as you will probably have one of the most unforgettable and deafening experiences of your life – I seriously cannot recommend them enough.
Swans played : Frankie M, A Little God In My Hands, The Cloud of Unknowing, Just a Little Boy (For Chester Burnett), I Forget and Bring The Sun / Black Hole Man