Never Say Never Again

October 11th, 2010

The Swans – The Bowery Ballroom – October 9, 2010

Here’s a lesson to immensely influential and groundbreaking bands: Never say you’re never going to get back together. Because Michael Gira of the Swans promised that just four years ago and yet here the band was in the middle of a mass of droning sound at The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night. As each member made his way onstage, he added to and played against the increasing waves of pounding aggression.

Many fans have listened in awe to the mountains of recordings the group has put out since 1982, but nothing could prepare them for the mammoth force the Swans create live. Gira’s gravelly baritone vocals were otherworldly in the sea of trombone, lap-steel guitar, hypnotic pummeling drums and Thor Harris hammering on organ tubes. The sound conjures up a doomed existence without any of the theatrics, the head-banging drone repeats in that Buddhist attempt to drive away thought and just experience the crushing moment.

Whether it was a personal aversion to artificially cooled venues or a mild attempt to bring the audience into their hellish underworld, it was clear Michael Gira was determined to keep it that way, repeatedly demanding the A/C be turned off. Taking an uncharacteristic moment to address the crowd he remarked, “I really admire the person who follows their imagination…. It’s to be applauded. Very few of us have the courage to do that.” The Swans have been following their disturbed imagination for more than 28 years and they’ve been applauded every step of the way. —Jason Dean