>Hello dear friends. I am back from a joyful and very relaxing 2 week quasi-vacation in NYC and life is good. My lovely bf and I had a wonderful time in the city (though I probably had a better time than he did, cause I shopped a lot), and one of the highlights of our stay in NY was that we were able to see Swans live.
For those of you unfamiliar with the band, Swans are one of the most important and influential bands to come out of the famous No Wave era in New York. This was back in 1982. They remained together and released many albums — though with a different musical direction — throughout the ’80s and most of the ’90s, until they disbanded in 1997. Band leader Michael Gira then took on several other projects as a solo artist, producer and member of other bands, until he announced in 2010 that the band would reunite for a new album and tour.
My boyfriend and I are both avid Swans fans, and this announcement was very pleasant for us to learn. We had been talking about spending some time in New York City before finding out about the tour, but nothing had been formally planned. One day, my boyfriend surprised me with two tickets to the Swans’ show at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom on Oct. 9, 2010, and immediately, our plans were made.
Most people who know Swans and/or have heard any of their live albums are aware of the incredibly loud performances they put on. I was aware of this, but given the extent and diversity of the Swans’ catalog, my fears of a sound-induced coma were dispelled. Of course, I was expecting a warm, rather mellow show that encompassed every aspect of Swans, from their harsh beginnings to their softer, more melodic and rather romantic works. And of course, I was punched in the face when everything I expected was soon shattered into a million tiny pieces. I am not saying, under any circumstances, that this was a bad show, or that I am unhappy with the setlist. I will explain in detail later, but first things first: the opening act.
Opening acts are usually hit or miss with the crowd. For any band, picking an opening act that personifies the future of music in a good way and also carries on the values of the headliner is a rather difficult task. Truth is, the audience is there to see the headliner, and the opener is just an added bonus that the audience could do well without, in most cases. There might be cases where the opening act is just as relevant to the audience as a headliner, but that would usually happen on a person-to-person basis rather than as a whole. I know I haven’t attended a show where I was more interested in seeing the openers than the headliners, although I do recall a situation where that could be applied, and I talked about that briefly here. In my case, and my boyfriend’s case as well, we were not very enthused about seeing Baby Dee open for Swans.
We were both surprisingly content with Baby Dee’s set. The music was simple — just a violin and a cello accompanying Dee’s voice and harp playing — and the lyrics were crazy, with a sense of depth and good humor at times. Both musicians in her band were very skilled, and played gracefully to her half-sung-half-recited lyrics.
Her set was not very long, but it was a nice one. If anything, it gave me some expectations for the show. If a lo-fi, acoustic act opened for Swans, then Swans would play their more recent, less brutally noisy stuff… Wrong.
They kicked off the set with like 10 minutes of really loud feedback. I mean really loud. It was so loud, even some of the diehard Swans fans started to put on earplugs. Then Thor Harris, of Shearwater (and carpentry) fame, came out to play the chimes in the back over the deep layers of feedback.
The rest of the band, including Michael Gira and two extra brass players came out to join in on the noise, playing their instruments as hard as humanly possible. At this point, I am pretty sure blood came out from inside my ears. I was in pain, but it was a good kind of pain.
Remember what I mentioned earlier about my expectations for this show? The band played deconstructed and prolonged versions of early songs and songs from their new album, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.
Getting to the venue early allowed us to secure a spot on the first row. We were standing on the left, so we were right in front of Christoph Hahn and Thor, who was in the back. Gira kept most of the show facing away from the audience, and turning to the right, so most of the pictures I have of him are of his ass, like the one above. I didn’t have the best view of the rest of the band who were on my right, so I have very few pictures of Norman Westberg, Phil Puleo (whose picture I couldn’t take at all), or bassist Chris Pravdica. At least Hahn posed for a few of my pictures, as shown below.
Highlights of the show were a long and loud instrumental solo mid setlist, and the incredible Beautiful Child, from one of my favorite Swans albums, Children of God. After Eden Prison, a song from their latest album, the band thanked the audience and retreated. A minute later they came back for the encore — a sweet spoken-word kind of number called Little Mouth, which Gira affectionately dedicated to his wife and Angels of Light bandmate, Siobhan Duffy.
The band thanked the audience one last time, sent guitar picks and drumsticks out to the crowd as souvenirs and posed for pictures as they left. I was able to snap a pretty awesome picture of Thor as he posed for the audience. Gira also makes a nice appearance on the right.
The show was incredible, and we both enjoyed it a lot. The noise cruelly raped my ears with the fury of a depraved maniac, but at least I was able to recover my hearing within the next couple of days.
Every Swans fan should get the chance to see this show. Really, it was too good for words. The whole band showed an incredible amount of skill on the set, and it was very amusing to see them give it their all onstage, despite the fact that they are well into their fifties now. As a suggestion, I would tell them to keep their shirts on for the next shows, but a few saggy tummies were easy to bear with when they gave us such great music. I should post a pic of me wearing the Swans t-shirt I got at the show. Here’s the full setlist, in case you were wondering.
In the following days, my boyfriend found a slew of pictures and videos where, unfortunately, we are featured. Here’s a screencap from someone’s video, where I elegantly highlighted my face and my boyfriend’s head, for extra convenience.
You can watch a some videos from the show if you click on this dandy playlist assembled by my bf.
Just to make this review extra professional and journalistic, here’s a pic of me and my bf on the train. ❤