Swans – Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 22, 1015
There was a buzz in the air last night, quite literally, as Swans shook Music Hall of Williamsburg during a powerhouse two-hour set. The show began with percussionist Thor Harris taking a mallet to a gong and building a reverberating noise that filled the room. In turn, drummer Phil Puleo first joined him and then Christoph Hahn on lap steel guitar. They spent several minutes slowly building reverberation that had my clothes buzzing against my skin. Eventually frontman Michael Gira and the rest of the band joined in and layered guitars and bass, creating an all-immersive, almost Zen-like wall of sound for “Frankie M.” This wasn’t music you listened to as much as you felt: a wind of guitars in your face, the low-end shake of bass and drums rattling your extremities. The first “movement”—from the opening gong to Gira subtly arching his eyebrow and the band collectively crashing to an end—was 35 minutes of traveling through the looking glass.
From there Gira led the band through several more sections, perhaps they were songs, or maybe they were more than that. Each stretched on in time, seemingly in units of 12 minutes: 12, 24, 36 ticks of the hand went by as the six musicians locked into looping soundscapes, hypnotizing and brutalizing the crowd. There weren’t solos so much as six simple patterns played by each man, combined into fractal geometries. Along the way the vibrations grew into tremors, eventually rattling the floor. At some point early in the set, Harris lost his shirt, moving bare chested from violin to vibraphone to haunted-house percussion, revealing the underlying, dark secrets of each song as the band crashed wave after wave of sound on the Sunday night audience.
Gira held court, often raising his arms like a big bird (a Swan, perhaps). His banter was minimal, apologizing for unnoticeable voice troubles with “I have 61 years of angst in my throat.” His vocals were more like chanted koans, mostly undecipherable in the mix, but a necessary component of the ritualistic music. As the clock moved deeper into the night, I tried to convince myself to call it an evening, but found that I couldn’t pull myself away. Like the rest of the people in the room, I was mesmerized. By midnight, the venue was full on rumbling, my teeth actually chattering as the energy ratcheted up to maximum level before ending in a set-closing thermonuclear explosion of cymbals and guitars. Stunned, the audience gave a hearty ovation as Gira and company took a bow and left the stage with a thank you and the promise of a new album out soon, leaving behind plenty of buzz.
—A. Stein | @Neddyo