All you really have to know is, Swans turned up, and played the hell out of their brilliant new LP, to the point of creating something in that room that was – especially these days, rare as Ichor.
There are gigs and then there are gigs. And this was one of the other, rarer sorts.
I could be over egging the pudding, mind. I went with an old pal, Martin, who’s moving back to his native Ireland very soon; so maybe there was an element of reminiscence about past nights out on this particular evening anyway. But for once I don’t think so. Going to a gig with Martin was a regular event until his having kids intervened. Being both the same age, we always swapped stories about people we’d seen back in the late 80s and early 90s in Dublin, Dundalk, Newcastle and Manchester; Nick Cave, Alien Sex Fiend, Bunnymen, Swans, Sisters, Mary Chain, Mondays… In a way seeing Swans as – ostensibly – our last gigging night out was a good coda to that kind of talk and may have coloured our appreciation of the gig we saw. But I don’t think that’s true either.
Writing about this gig last week may well be impossible. There are a number of “conventional” paths this review could quite easily go down: and given what’s still swilling around in my head, none would really do it justice. All you really have to know is, Swans turned up, and played the hell out of their brilliant new LP The Seer to the point of creating something in that room that was – especially these days, rare as Ichor.
There was a time when going to gigs was primarily a laugh. You tuned up, got mildly or majorly off it, and saw a band; it really was as simple as that. Time would tell if things were the same for you afterwards: whether seeing Julian Cope doing Jehovakill meant you left your partner and home to grow organic veg or carried on the 9 to 5. It was your affair. But there was more of a communication. There was more concentration, more physicality. The relegation of gigs as either some sort of private viewing for the cognoscenti or a background “medium” to exercise the apps on your new electronic device is getting more and more noticeable. In essence things aren’t as two-way as they were. People have got a bit lazy, a bit, well... virtual... and because of that, a bit monotonous.
Which is why seeing Swans was such an invigorating blast. I can’t remember much about Sir Richard Bishop apart from he was good, as we’d expected. I remember he bust a few strings. But it was all about Swans. And that’s all you need to know, as it’s nigh on impossible to relate in normal “gig review” terms the sheer weight of the spectacle; especially when the band’s ideas of showmanship are verging on the laconic. Swans don’t need to give anything outside of their music in any case and that’s enough: and it was more about our understanding that they controlled the room, they could rearrange everything in any way they wanted, the idea of space and time itself included: and time and space were indeed being slowly rearranged by the magma flow of the sound.
So, Swans are loud but this wasn’t just about making a racket. And this wasn’t a masochistic audience – this wasn’t a crowd looking to titillate themselves – not one looking to dine out on the Swans experience, which I think some people do at “difficult” or heritage gigs nowadays. I’m pretty certain it’s more about the intensity of the band’s vision. The highlight - or the most difficult ascent for those sonic / psychicke climbers to negotiate on the night -was the bruising 30 minutes of The Seer itself: epic is a word that can be bandied around jocularly, but this was a truly epic experience; epic in the Velasquez is, climbing in the Alps, or being sick as a dog in a gale on the Irish Sea. Epic in the idea that you can’t escape what’s in front of you. Gira was beginning to take on Odin-like qualities in directing things; most of the band’s moves seemed to take direction from his prompting. Though Swans, for me, are really anchored on Norman Westberg’s decimating guitar runs: his lambasting, unrelenting guitar clash smothered the room, taking his noise in was akin to feeling the lids being forcibly screwed down and sealed on a part of your consciousness.
I’m babbling, I’ll shut up. Sometimes life and what it throws up - even at gigs - can be too real for words.