Venue: La Tulipe
Opening band: A Hawk and a Hacksaw
I have only started exploring Swans' extensive discography about a month ago, but I still decided to get my ticket and witness what I had heard was a unique live phenomenon. Me and my friend went to La Tulipe by bike, probably for the last time before the rain and snow come in, and we ate at a pretty cool sandwich place just beside the venue. We saw there was a huge line-up in front of the door, and notices said the place was sold out (about 800 people), which wasn't surprising due to the legendary status of the band.
We finished eating and ran to the venue right in time to catch the opening act. A Hawk and a Hacksaw are a very good gypsy music duo, composed of a guy playing accordion and a bass drum with bells and sometimes some wierd eastern string instrument, and a girl playing violin and sometimes stroh violin. Their musicianship was impressive. They mixed influences from many different folk music, including eastern european gypsy music, arab folk and jewish folk. They had some very dark songs, while others had a pretty festive mood. A great discovery.
After a 30 minutes set, the Albuquerque duo left the stage and made room for Swans. The legendary act had to start at 8 o' clock, because there was a 10:30 curfew (there is an 80's pop/dance night DJed by my ex-hairdresser - yes, I used to have my hair cut back in the day - on fridays
). The next 135 minutes were history. The New York band delivered a performance like I've never seen before. Frontman Michael Gira was accompanied by a drummer, a bassist, a lead guitarist, a steel guitar player and some viking guy playing percussions, gongs, xylophone and other instruments, including clarinet and dulcimer. The main songwriter acted as a bandmaster: he made signals to the musicians when they had to start playing specific parts, and for the parts when they sustained long/cacophonous notes he used some kind of language. When he jumped and hit the ground meant to start the musical energy burst and lifting his guitar upwards meant to end it. He was in complete control of everything; he even told the lights guy and the soundman what to do. I guess that, though he seems to be a nice person, being in a band with him must not always be a pleasure. Nonetheless, he probably is the most physically expressive frontman I've seen perform. Now, on to the music. Swans' set was absolutely mesmerizing and induced you in a trance-like state. They long, stripped out noisy passages, for example the middle part of "The Seer", that I would normally find boring, but that totally worked in that context. I must say that the extremely high volume helped to raise the intensity. Anyway, the band has a totally different approach to music than any metal band I know, and it felt refreshing. They mostly played recent stuff: songs from their latest 2 hour long genius output The Seer
and four new unreleased songs. The only exception was the industrial crusher "Coward", from 1986's Holy Money
, which was one of my highlights alongside the new songs known as the "Southern Song" and the grandiose finale with The Seer
's ending track: "The Apostate". I know it might sound a bit cheesy, but the almost 2 hours and a half performance, during which time and space appeared to to be suspended, seemed like it lasted less than 30 minutes.
Note: I took the names of the unreleased songs by comparing with previous setlists on setlist.fm
, they're probably only working titles.
To Be Kind (new song)
She Loves Us (new song)
Southern Song (new song)
Nathalie (new song)