swans forever x


after the third of three nights in three cities across the uk those were the words I found to scribble large on a piece of old receipt paper and lodge between the wiper and the windowscreen of their tour van.  I couldnt think of a better way to put it then and I still can’t now. all i’ll do is tap up the notes i took over this three day adventure and see what we have on the page. Whatever it is, it won’t convey nearly well enough what it is that I felt and saw. i’m now almost two days away from that last uk set and i’m still dumbfounded, half-hypnotised, partly gone and partly lusting for another fix. it’s a filthy obession.

london, koko, thursday

the easy part. the show is only 45 minutes from home and at a venue, however sonically shoddy and impossible the sight-lines may be, that’s at least familiar and i’m used to the weird, maze-like layout. due to the nagging remnants of flu I’m already hanging off the wall and clinging my nasty new ‘you fucking people make me sick’ t-shirt to my chest by the time gira and his crew of gifted bludgeoners take the stage. the slow, graceful climbs of the balladeering ‘to be kind’ fill the hall, ebbing over the massed and mostly silent (this is london let’s not forget – cunts would be trying to talk over the end of the world if they thought their coked-up mates could hear them and call it banter) huddle of humanity.

The first few builds, dominant and mile high as they are, are merely teasers for the main body of the set which comes, following the mightily pitch-black atomic industrial shuffle of ‘coward’ , in the shape of their recently lauded album title track ‘the seer’. more than thirty minutes of insistent crescendo and diminuendo tease out and dispel notions of time perception and of awareness. i find myself opening my eyes (they were closed?) to see that i’m dancing, or that i’m swaying or have my arms pointed directly at the ceiling. this, friends, is the good shit and exactly the reason why i told the guy outside looking for mushrooms that he most certainly didn’t need any.

the power of repetition, volume and sheer length shifts within this reality to resemble something close to illusion/magic and as you stand with this music filling every part of you, it’s fair to say that you are entirely of the experience and, most beautifully, immersed thoroughly in the moment. gira seems to have found the secret to the snake oil – he’s selling it to us and it’s working.  during the cataclysmic closer ‘the apostate’, a jingle bell rumble of stuttered utterances, broken murmurs, wailing and lost, lycanthropic howls, i’m letting my mind empty and fill with whatever imagery the music wants to suggest. it’s dark as hell in there, but brilliantly hopeful too – worlds melt and are renewed, faces burn and become more beautiful, endurance becomes a mystical trial. this is meditation through cacophony instead of silence. emptiness, clarity and then reconstruction. rock n roll, right?

i forget my flu for the 2hr 45 minute set duration and watch as a delighted gira introduces himself as justin bieber before leaving the stage clearly sated and delighted. ‘what kind of band is this?’ i wonder. they don’t fit into any current genre and they don’t ascribed to a widely acknowledged aesthetic, sonic or otherwise. they’re stretching the reality of rock music, re-shaping it in their own diabolical image. devilishly wonderful, worryingly spiritual.

glasgow, the arches, friday

the train to glasgow is early and the ride taken on little to no sleep. I accompany the trip with ‘the seer’ and  ‘songs for the blind’. in beautiful, bleak glasgow the long necked ones shall be housed beneath the railway tracks in a miniature cavern of concrete and red brick. perfection. support act sir richard bishop’s intricate off-kilter acoustic blues are battered somewhat by the metal band rehearsing/soundchecking in another nearby building but swans will not suffer that fate…

mr gira looks relaxed stood in a glasgow gutter, white stetson atop his head (as if you didn’t know he’s one of the good guys) and we talk a little bit about the koko show. was it ok? he enquires. between hysterical bursts of laughter i manage to assure him it was more than ok. he’s unsure and felt they were a little rusty. i explain to him that Bannon (bowling partner and fellow adventurer) has come all this way having never heard swans before. he laughs heartily and promises that they’ll try to play a good show.

tonight’s is the loudest show I’ve been to in over twenty years of concert-going. your lips, teeth and tip of your nose vibrate. ‘avatar’ crashes against the walls, through the floors and directly into your spine. people panic, hands cupped over their ears, desperately backing away from the speakers; the bar is handing out earplugs. ‘your life is in my hands…your mind is in my eye..’ croons gira, the room vibrating, near-crumbling around him. yet as the set hits the halfway point and the volume is pulled down a touch by the house engineers gira grows annoyed and expresses this in fairly strong terms. having given hell to the engineers over the PA he takes a deep slug of beer and assaults the next track. unfortunately during the opening of what will be the set’s premature closer ‘nathalie’ gira can’t get his band into the groove he wants. despite many attempts to show bassist chris pravdica exactly how he should play it doesn’t match up to the sound gira has in his head. This makes for not only an extremely angered reading of the song but also a set that lacks the amazing ‘the apostate’ at its climax. though the band make a show of glee and unity at the close it’s clear they’ve not hit the heights of their own extremely lofty standards. by anyone else’s expectations this explosive, tender set would be a career highlight – for swans it’s an off-night of sorts.

manchester, sound control, Saturday

the slow train to Manchester and my head fills with the much-loathed ‘the burning world’ (me? I like it) and ‘the great annihilator’ , an enveloping, twisting swathe of music that entombs the listener for its duration.

the venue tonight is arrogantly oversold – there’s not even the room to bring a drink to your lips once you’re in and some can’t even get through the door and so spend the show on the interior stairs.

tonight swans are the sound of a pencil being sharpened to an infinite point, growing ever sharper and more beautiful, directly against your unprotected, soft, open eye. the artistry of modern european classical composition is used as a pair of sculpting hands to shape a free and wild sound into a strict, teutonic, utterly perfect and stunningly ugly whole.

thought the set is very similar to the one played at koko it seems to sink in and settle even more deeply and fully this time around. whether chugging through primitive industrial, tiptoeing through gorgeously crafted, mosaic-like devotionals or hammering you with endless, eye and ear-filling sonic destruction they are simply flicking through the pages of an book entirely consisting of different shades of black until finally there’s nothing but absolute white, absolute light.

it’s the transformation of exhaustion and pain into transcendence and joy. people are fainting. i’m dancing again. the whirl of guitar and double drums and rolling bass continues, a carousel with the universe on display.

in the bathroom on the floor below the stage the pillars shake, paint crumbles from the ceiling and the mirrors shudder. I join in laughing with an equally stunned, wordless crowd member.

mr gira signs my book and tells me to take good care of it. i smile the smile of the infinitely pleased and maybe even the deluded. We sit outside and lucy speaks to thor and mr gira. Suddenly im up and scribbling on that piece of paper and then im across the street sliding under the wiper. ‘SWANS FOREVER X’ it says and that, when it comes down to it, is exactly how the world feels to me right now.