Preview | Bowery Ballroom; Saturday July 3Rounded out by a crew of familiar associates, this tasteful ensemble fleshes out the performer's obsessions with pastoral American songwriting traditions. Michael Gira certainly has a passion for extremes. For the better part of the 15 years he spent leading avant-rock luminaries Swans, his name was synonymous with Herculean, confrontational noise that thrilled and repulsed audiences with its single-minded crunch. After taking that exhausting approach to its logical end, the frontman has gradually redirected his energy toward less brutal, though still intense, sonic statements. After retiring Swans in 1997, he split his musical personality into two distinct entities. The ultraharsh ambient project the Body Lovers and its evil twin, the Body Haters, have engaged Gira's intellect (note the curious electronic hell of 34:13, the latter's recent disc on Young God Records), but his latest group, the Angels of Light, has stolen his heart.
Rounded out by a crew of familiar associates, this tasteful ensemble fleshes out the performer's obsessions with pastoral American songwriting traditions. During Swans' unfortunate mid-period, before their triumphant final endeavors, they strode into similarly melodic territory, but their overproduced attempts at fragility often sounded forced, fatigued and GothicÂ–check the lesser entries on Various Failures (Young God), a mercifully revised and edited overview of the titans' 1988Â–92 releases. The Angels' admirable debut, New Mother (Young God), rights the wrongs of those bygone efforts. In a wizened voice filled with emotion, Gira assumes the role of literate, psychologically disturbing balladeer, while his cohorts exhibit surprising restraint on the primarily acoustic, alternately lush and spartan material. The overlong album is sophisticated yet never slick, and its stark, cabaret-damaged asides offset its elegantly stylized, postÂ–Leonard Cohen centerpieces.
Onstage, the once-tyrannical Gira has turned into an anecdote-telling, crowd-pleasing gentleman. Age has reshaped his aesthetics, but he thankfully hasn't lost his fire or his love of black humor. Live, the Angels' heavier tracks build to sustained crescendos that glimmer as they batter, though the mini-orchestra's weaker numbers can grow tedious and overly sentimental. This show, which will conclude the cast's first tour, will be a litmus test, proving whether or not the players will be able to re-create New Mother's intricacy, angst, introspection andÂ–a new one for GiraÂ–subtlety