Michael Gira & Devendra Banhart | Live Review | Mark Newton

Bush Hall, Shepherd's Bush, London

You would have to call this a rare visit to these shores by cult NY noise-monger and leader of seminal 80s/ 90s band Swans, Michael Gira. The venue, equally unique, with its Renaissance stylings and baroque Edwardian architecture, providing a provocatively demure backdrop to his nihilistically intense songs of love, sex, and hate. First, Devendra Banhart, Gira's talismanic madman, a Syd Barratt-esque troubadour with a nice line in inspired lunacy who enraptures his audience with a compelling, unwittingly arch performance. Funny, but not intentionally so, laughter is not a requirement. At his best, songs of simple subtlety such as "Adam's Son" are truly beguiling and he certainly acts as an interesting foil for what is to come. Gira looks so severe and old these days, yet retains a monolithic presence that sucks you in to the shadow of his dark light. His first major appearance in the UK since the fated disillusion of Swans in 1997, 250 or so of his pilgrims are here to keep the faith. An interesting bunch, consisting as it does of Goths - blacked up to the nines, earnest looking beard wearers, student types, a few American ex-pats and some genuinely eccentric flotsam. Sprinkling a selection of older and brand new songs, amongst interpretations of works from his latest Angels of Light album "Everything is good here/ Please come home", this was a concert for the connoisseur. What caught the ear? A totally new song inspired by Martin Bashir's Michael Jackson interviews, "New Mind" off the classic Children of God album, a venomous "Nations" ­ all the more pertinent in these dangerous times and to complete the initial salvo of songs a quite awe inspiring "All Souls Rising" from the new album. Rigid bones and brittle, yet forceful movements stretched every sinew of his frame. Howling like a caged animal, flaying away at his acoustic guitar with impassioned boldness ­ this was the visceral thrill of a naked soul laid bare in front of you. It is a rare honour to be allowed into someone's innermost psyche. At its conclusion, Gira sat slumped forwards in exhaustion, guitar strings snapped, his previously immaculate shirt, plastered to his body with stains of sweat. After a short interlude to allow Michael, and the audience, to recover he treated us to several more songs culminating in the archetypal Swans song "Failure" ­ the rich timbre of his voice weaving its magic over this anthemic tale. A standing ovation seemed a strange ­ if deserving ­ reaction to the end of the concert. Gira, perhaps slightly embarrassed by this rare show of emotion against traditional English reserve, offered to meet everyone after the show in the foyer. A show of genuine appreciation from a unique artistic talent, forever labelled as a cult, but someone who touches the soul of everyone fortunate enough to come into contact with his work.