LA Music Blog show review

The masters of sonic exploration reign supreme
By David Fisch

“Just let your freak flag fly.”

My friend gave me this great piece of advice after I described to him too analytically how I needed to mentally prepare for Swans at The Fonda Theatre Friday night. You see, for as much as I or anyone might “plan” to expect the unexpected at a Swans show, you don’t really know what a Swans show is even if you’ve attended one before.

That applies most specifically to seeing the band during this recent iteration of members, which leader Michael Gira has claimed is its last formation — for now. The band has produced four albums over the last six years, bending and stretching and ripping apart genres and soundscapes, engaging in absolutely epic explorations of highly experimental territory, each album one part of an organically connected sound collage culminating with this year’s release ofThe Glowing Man.

In a live setting, with this band, they are just as organic. The way you have seen Swans before is close to nothing like how you saw them the time before that. They adapt the textures and landscapes of each of their previous albums and tours to this new one in support of their latest release, with each musician exhibiting new forces upon their instruments in the same way the skin of the human body morphs to each reflex of the muscles.

There’s beauty in hearing this unit of Swans change and evolve on record, but it’s something else entirely to see it happen right before your very eyes.

The band is all under the direction of one Michael Gira, a ringleader who is arguably a perfectionist of controlled chaos. Watching him perform is close to a religious experience; he exerts such power in his gaze around the room with his hands high above his head and then roaring back to his guitar. Rare is the moment that I have seen a performer with that kind of stage presence to the point that you can literally see his music breathe and dance.

To bring back the imagery of the human body, it’s a marvelous conception, and Swans personifies it. The group’s music is a living thing, in all of its beauty and its terror, and Gira understands how to contain it.

You don’t just watch Swans perform the menace of “Cloud of Unknowing” or the ferocity of “The Glowing Man” or the groovy “Screen Shot” — you actually witness the music become a physical entity. In a way, Swans live is performance art of the highest order.

I knew to expect the unexpected, but I didn’t believe I could be lifted into the ether. The two-hour show (as long as one of their albums) flowed from hypnotic drones to searing gut-punches to head-banging rock odysseys, and I let my freak flag fly with the rest of the congregation at The Fonda Theatre, no questions asked.

See. Swans. Live. Before. It’s. Too. Late.