After the declaration at the start of last year that “Swans are not dead”, Michael Gira proceeded with the resurrection of his legendary no-wave outfit and released the excellent “My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky”, Swans’ first studio album in 14 years. The resulting tour brought Gira’s avant-garde noise orchestra for the first time in Athens and for two-hours last Thursday we were too guided up to the Sky by the power of their sweeping, body- destroying sound.
Swans’ wall of uplifting noise is built methodically, layer upon layer, and the live presentation of the epic “No Words/No Thoughts”, the 10-minute opening track of their new album which transforms into an astonishing 30-minute plus noise saga in their live set, is a good example of how the band operates. An insistent drone kicked off before any of the band members took to the stage, laying the foundations of the sonic structure. As each musician came on, a new layer of sound was introduced and the noise wave started to build momentum. Philip Puleo provided the thunderous drums, Thor Harris added bells and all kinds of crushing percussive noise, Cristoph Hahn made his lap steel sound like an air-raid siren, Chris Pavdica put in the ominous bass layers and finally Norman Westberg (the longest serving Swans crew member) and the band’s conductor, Michael Gira, came onstage adding their howling guitars to the mix. When Gira eventually stepped up to the mic and started intoning the first verses of the track (“See that man - ego, inner man - hollow…”), the over-wound spring finally uncoiled and all the built-up tension was released in an all-consuming rock explosion.
The ritual continued in a similar pattern, with walls of intricate white noise giving way to dark, ominous melodies as Gira’s imposing voice recited his ferocious gospel. The set was based on new material including the unreleased “Avatar”, along with a few necessary additions from the band’s influential past (“Sex, God, Sex”, “I Crawled”). From their last album, Swans also performed “Jim” and “Eden Prison”, while “Little Mouth” was kept for the encore, with Gira’s naked, thunderous voice providing the catharsis of the show.
Swans, live@Gagarin 205, Athens (April 14, 2011)