SWANS: YONGE-DUNDAS SQUARE: 06/20/2014
Noise rock icons Swans delivered a Friday night set of music that Yonge and Dundas Square won’t soon forget. Punishing, hypnotic, intense are all words that would accurately describe the stock and trade that Swans President and CEO Michael Gira has been peddling for several decades now, and that is exactly what was on display in downtown Toronto on this night.
It’s something of a small miracle that with To Be Kind, Swans find themselves in the Billboard Top 100 album sales chart, given that during his first go round with Swans (1982-1997) Gira was producing a form of music that alienated as many people as it bonded with. But as has happened with numerous other bands in recent years ( Pixies, The Jesus Lizard, Neutral Milk Hotel etc..) the word of mouth has spread as to how vital a band this has been and with the rebirth of Swans in 2010 (with a brand new line-up, it should be noted) and the overwhelmingly positive reviews 2012’s The Seer received, there is now a pent up demand for new recorded material.
Considering that their last two records clock in at a combined running time of four hours, it’s probably not surprising that Swans were only able to squeeze three songs into their just shy of an hour set...but oh what songs they were. One from the new record, one from the last record and one yet to be released is what this set would consist of.
“Frankie M” started with an almost ten minute drone of cymbal crashes, lap steel cries and timely feedback but soon gave way to Gira’s vocal refrain of “heroin / opium / Frankie M”. As is the case with a great majority of Swans material, the band locked into some sort of sinister sounding riff and then proceded to bludgeon it until it begged for mercy. They slyly sequed into “The Apostate”, a track from 2112’s critically acclaimed The Seer, but not before Gira commanded, with an ominous movie villain tone: “bring these buildings down!” I proceeded to take one last look around…just in case.
The set was brought to a close with not only To Be Kind’s “Bring The Sun”, but with the addition of new track “Black Hole Man”. The opening minutes of the captivating finale found Gira sans guitar and dancing around violently, as though he had been possessed by some darker spirit, but it would not be long before he would pick up his black Gibson and guide these Swans home to escape the coming Apocalypse…or perhaps even to inspire it! It did seem humorous that amid all this doom and gloom intensity coming from the stage, I could simply turn my head to the left and be met with the sight of the preening “Budweiser Girls” who were there as one of the many “free concert” sponsors pushing their product.
Though I didn’t have any prior history with the band, either through records or concerts, I came away from the experience feeling like I had just witnessed one of rock’s most powerful live acts and I felt blessed just to have been a part of it. To Be Kind and The Seer have already been added to my music library and Michael Gira can rest comfortably in the knowledge that he has collected another devoted member to his loyal following.
- Johnny Hooper