Swans Live Review @ Trinity, Bristol | 365 Bristol

As ever, one of many reasons to experience Swans live is M Gira himself. He progressed from gentle swaying to prowling about the stage to jumping, kicking and flailing his limbs around like a narcotic octopus.


Wednesday 28th May brought American experimental rock band, Swans, to Bristol in a characteristic furore of powerful noise.

Support for the night came in the form of multidisciplinary Norwegian artist Jenny Hval. The stage set up was compromised of three musicians - a percussionist, a guitarist and Jenny herself on keys and vocals – this strange and ethereal band really found its niche audience, with most of the crowd exchanging appreciative nods between songs. Their sound was very interesting, a throbbing, pulsing rhythm with dainty yet powerful female vocals skating across the surface. Everything was endearing from the whispered ‘thankyou’s to the spontaneous mid-note hand tremors, definitely worth checking out for any fans of Swans or Grimes.

The first five minutes of Swans’ set seemed to consist of purely feedback and dull noise, amped up to a dangerous level, the bass speakers looking frankly unstable as the vibrations bounced several pint glasses off the stage and onto the floor. Cutting it very close to the point where one could almost accuse the band of ‘milking it’, Michael Gira and co eventually entered in due fashion. As they walked on, each member taking up their instrument like a weapon against the mundane and the music beginning to intensify, the venue choice really began to make sense. The Trinity Centre is the shell of a quaint 19th Century church that was deconsecrated in the 1970’s in order to be used for arts-based activities in the community. Consequently, the inside is charmingly confused; the familiar stained glass window and stone pillar aesthetic, juxtaposed with heavy lights rigging in the ceiling and a bar nestled in the corner. Obviously, the acoustics in this building are incredible, the sound reverberates endlessly and with the clever positioning of the mixing desk right in the centre of the crowd, it is easy for the mix to be kept spot on. But there was something more than this which rendered this the perfect venue. From the clasped hands, closed eyes and furrowed brows of those around me, the congregation of Swans, it seemed almost a spiritual experience for some. At times the audience would sway in time like a single organism, putty in Michael Gira’s hands as he strode back and forth, spitting, kicking and stamping. A credit to him and the band, never have I seen a more enraptured crowd.

Seriousness aside, the night was not free from humour (although some hard-core fans were unshakable in their solemnity) with the band’s audience interaction limited to some intentionally incoherent grunting from the frontman, and his demands that there be “a little more light” on us. Once the lighting arrangement had been suitably adjusted, the music began to pulse and thud slowly and masterfully into a swelling cacophony of pure noise. It was beautifully done. Playing mainly new tracks from their 2014 album To Be Kind, which came out on May 12th, this was a brilliant way of getting their ever-shifting musical direction across to their fans. Everything that could have gone right went right, and it’s worth giving special mention to the stirringly powerful rendition of A Little God In My Hands which would have won anyone over even, I noticed, the security guard.

As ever, one of many reasons to experience Swans live is M Gira himself. Throughout the night he progressed from gentle swaying to prowling about the stage to jumping, kicking and flailing his limbs around like a narcotic octopus, seemingly unhinged from conventional stage-personas. Yes, enjoyable. Yes, comical. But also it speaks of an underlying freedom and unabashed emotion that he derives from his music, and that makes it all the more moving.

From the experience I suspect was familiar to most in that room, of whacking on an old record of Swans Are Dead in a darkened bedroom and growing a love for the band, the live incarnation of Swans is a ferociously different animal. It is one of those phenomena that has to be seen to be believed, and you’ll come out into the cold night air wondering what on earth just happened to you.


Reviewed and photos by Miri Teixeira