Michael Gira's Angels of Light | Review

INK 19 | Frank Mullen

Echo Lounge, Atlanta, GA June 11, 1999

Anyone familiar with Michael Gira's history with the Swans might know what they could expect from a performance by his latest project. Unearthing the haunted, dark side of the human experience, stripping away the veil of civility to reveal the pain and suffering of the world -- that was the Swans' specialty. And to a slightly lesser degree, Gira continues that approach with the Angels of Light, presenting intense and personal narratives from his unique corner of the world.

The stage was crowded -- the five band members switched positions often, each playing at least two different instruments. This created a rich, dense sound, especially when overlaid with Gira's baritone voice.

He sang from a different single-page lyric sheet for each song, many of which had words crossed out and written in by hand. Works in progress? His vocals were often low chants, rising with the music, then breaking into sharp percussive choruses. Starting quietly, a few of the tunes built to crashing, droning crescendos, like the soundtrack to a slow motion car wreck. When these songs ended, there was always a moment of silence before the applause began.

The songs performed were mainly from the CD New Mother , which was recorded with even richer instrumentation -- somehow, the songs seem sparse and lonely even with piano, glockenspiel, timpani, and tabla drums, and many others. More acoustic than electronic, the twang of a pedal steel guitar brought Harvest Moon -era Neil Young to mind (if he were crossed with Peter Murphy). Other songs reminded me of the Pogues, if they'd discovered heroin instead of alcohol.

"Intense" is an overused word, but it applies here. "This is another love song, about my mother," introduced a song called "Shame." What demons is he purging? I'm not sure I'd want to find out.