Review – Swans at Venue, Vancouver Sept 5 2014
– by Thalia Stopa
An unsatisfactory grumbling was coming from the Granville strip last Friday evening, like the intestinal sounds of a gluttonous animal. Security at Venue continued to feed the line of impatient self-sacrifices into the club as the first low rumbles of the no-wavers’ set began. Inside, the thick of bodies clogged the dance floor, pulled by Swans‘ Michael Gira, and his powerful magnetic force. Even the balconies were opened to accommodate the sold-out stupor of spectators.
On tour to support May’s critically lauded LP, To Be Kind – the ominous 13th release by the rock band – Swans demonstrated no acts of kindness towards the audience’s eardrums or themselves. The New York experimentalists’ live performance was pure guts. They played a set of repulsive and abstract beauty that could best be summed up with bodily fluids or functions. Their noise dredged up the base and abject, unsettled mental stability, and uncovered the futility of time. Bass lines loped, throbbed and induced hypnoses with their pendulum-like pace that emphasized the epic proportions of every song they played.
Gira used his entire body to communicate his deafening message. When he wasn’t playing guitar, the singer flailed or danced a demented torah, jesting his bandmates, and physically landed every song with a flying leap. In one self-flagellating demonstration Gira landed twenty consecutive jumps before his bandmates ceded their relentless droning. His meditative-like chanting escalated to shaman-esque shrieking which interwove with the layers of distortion. Emaciated guitarist Norman Westberg placidly hovered beside bassist Christopher Pravdica, his gum-chewing increasing in intensity in proportion with the music. Christopher Hahn suavely manipulated wails from his lap steel guitar, and Phil Puleo pounded the drums. Multi-instrumentalist neanderthal Thor Harris‘ trombone, vibraphone, chimes, dulcimer and additional drumming built upon the sound of amplified madness. Less the songs themselves than the physical reaction and overwhelming of mental faculties reverberated after the audience was regurgitated onto the Granville street pavement.