Swans Live Review at Aberdeen Lemon Tree | The Courier UK
“I kind of got it for the first five or 10 minutes but after half an hour I was puggled,” the doorman said after Swans had been on stage for almost two hours.
The feeling that Sunday’s gig was a long shift was shared by a concerned member of the public, who got out of his car in front of the Lemon Tree and asked “how much longer has this got to go on?”
“I was told it would be finished by 11,” he half-implored, indicating with his watch that it was 11.40pm.
But for most of the people who had chosen to be inside the venue, door and box office staff aside, time had crystallised. An American monster was waking up in there.
And all but the most heartless observers would sympathise with the man outside and the wincing staff, while wondering how long it’s been since the football stadium up the road generated this much sound. A New Firm derby would come close, but not quite, to a band touring the critically-acclaimed album To Be Kind.
And who had the idea of bringing north New York’s longest-lived proponents of dissonant, atonal rock – No Wave as it was branded when lynchpin Michael Gira first picked up an angle grinder in 1982 – and was it worth it for a half-full venue?
A man walked round with an armful of ear protectors – “you’ll need these” – but most thankfully didn’t.
In support, Norwegian artist Jenny Hval whisper-screamed her way through an unsettling electronic set.
With guitar and drums backing her sampler, the music was at once alluring and threatening like Siouxsie Sioux or Bjork.
Then Swans came on, fresh from a gig at the Glasgow Arches during a US-UK tour, looking like physics teachers in short-sleeved shirts. As if only to fuddle, there is also a half-naked, bearded man named Thor playing multiple instruments.
The band pioneered so-called “industrial” rock along with the likes of Ministry in the 1980s, and many hallmarks of that sound remain.
But after a 12-year hiatus ending in 2009 the six-piece is still innovating with every tour, a birthing process that can be as painful for the listener as a pummelling in the boxing ring.
Chimes, dulcimer, Eastern instruments, strange bells, pedal steel guitar that sounds like a banshee – the kitchen sink gets flung into the vortex from the cramped stage during those two hours.
Beyond the clamour, there’s a lot more on offer for those who would recoil at the rage of recent albums My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, and The Seer.
Peel away the veneer of Bring the Sun from the new record, a long and scathing workout at 30 minutes, and you’ll find Pink Floyd at their prog heights.
A Little God in my Hands revisits funk territory of the early 1980s, a sort of dark Prince processed through the subconscious mind, while Just a Little Boy summons the ghost of Howlin’ Wolf.
Sneering and wailing, Gira tore off sheets from his music stand, and the joke was that the pieces of paper only had “A” or “E” written in big lettering.
At 60, the musician is regarded along with Keith Morris (of punk revenants Off!) as an “elder statesman” of American rock music. The phrase implies redundancy; the prospect of being frozen in time as Keith Richards or Bob Dylan, only partway through a recording career.
Last week the new album was at number 36 in the US Billboard charts.
That might be down to the fact the band is lean and flexible like it always was, with every indication Gira’s imagination is as verdant as it was on career highlights Cop, or Soundtracks for the Blind.
Each song builds a sonic temple and then works to destroy it, or flips the process with repetition to the point of hallucination.
Stripped back, the music is uncomplicated but vast and multi-layered, with the rhythm of shipbuilding or chopping wood. But it’s primal, dark, compelling and timeless.
Simply put, going to see Swans gives rise to the same mix of fear and excitement as winning tickets to An Evening with Jack the Ripper.
Going to see most other bands is like a bairn going to the funfair.
By RICHARD WATT