With the beginning of the show pushed back a half hour due to their late arrival, Swans took the stage about 10:30 p.m.. Frontman Michael Gira did not disappoint. Per tradition for Swans shows, the air conditioning was shut off at The Firebird for the duration of the performance, and the venue began getting sweaty and rank about 45 minutes into the two hour plus show.
The mere presence of the post punk Swans in a city like St. Louis is exciting and ominous. Usually, these types of shows are reserved for the much cooler coasts, or at best Chicago, but last night one of those tours that typically pass us by stopped to play a show.
The crowd, some 250 strong and predominantly male, nodded their heads along with the crescendos and stretches of driving beat. Stacks of speakers not normally needed at the venue flanked the small stage. Though I saw no one overwhelmed by the decibel level in the room -- it was still loud even with our complimentary ear plugs in place -- there were some who exited early out of either a need to work in the morning or having simply endured enough punishment.
Letting the electric sound waves ebb and flow and then crash over him, Gira conducted the band with his right hand through these epics, crafting the mood like a spiritualist. It is difficult to hear these pieces as songs -- more like grand works to be displayed like art in a gallery. This is rock music for the 30th century, and not glittery pop songs for today. My mind kept conjuring intense monochromatic images over barren landscapes and in heavily populated urban areas in shades of black, white, gray, silver and chrome.
In two hours and five minutes Swans played a total of six songs. Nary a word came from the stage except "Thank you very much" after nearly an hour of music had washed over the audience. Songs in the live setting stretched and expanded. "Avatar" and the title track from the new album The Seer added nearly a third of their album running time here to 15 minutes and a whopping 49 minutes respectively. In reviews, the new material from the band has been likened to the late 1960s experimental output of the Pink Floyd on their album Ummagumma, which was exactly my thoughts during the show without having read much about the new work. But writing new material without comparison after 100 years of recorded music becomes more difficult after each passing year.
After introducing his band to the audience after the music ended, Gira ended all hope an encore. "We are absolutely done. I'm sure you are too." The experience of seeing the band live is much like a protracted love making session with your significant other. Using foreplay and various sexual positions, the constant build up to the eventual orgasm is satisfying, but after such a protracted session it can be an emotionally draining affair. Swans provided that performance for St. Louis last night and the audience went home for a post-concert cuddle with their dreams.
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