NY Daily News concert review
Swans slays at final Music Hall of Williamsburg show with its current commanding lineup
By Amy Rowe
Swans graced a sold-out audience at Music Hall of Williamsburg Saturday during the final tour with its current bevy of musicians, led by the always entrancing creator and frontman Michael Gira.
The New York outfit’s performance, in support of “The Glowing Man” released in June, reached insane levels of volume that have come to be expected at the noise rock group’s live shows since its formation in the 1980s.
With earplugs a near necessity, the band entranced the audience for two hours, the sheer skill of each of its players on display the entire time.
Gira is a centrifugal force. The guitarist, singer and songwriter is the captain of the ship. Each of the overwhelmingly talented musicians accompanying him on stage (that's Christopher Pradvica on bass, Norman Westberg on guitar, Christoph Hahn on guitar/lap steel guitar and Phil Puleo on drums) took cues from the dark, cunning conductor. Conspicuously absent was Thor Harris, their formidable percussionist and xylophone/vibes player.
The set opened with “The Knot,” an amalgamation of their 2010 song “No Words/No Thoughts” with what sounded like new material. The band slowly built up to their almost deafening intensity as Gira waved in every musician, each one building and adding on to the tones offered by whoever preceded him. The song was a literal crescendo — the volume continued to grow as new sounds reverberated throughout the fairly small venue. At the same time, the band slapped the crowd with individual crescendos in succession to round out the opener.
Sound blanketed the room by the time Swans launched into “Screen Shot” off of 2013's "To Be Kind." The force of the music was now rushing over the bodies of everyone in the room like a stupefying wave, pumping beats through their veins.
The frequently closed-eyed Gira looked like he was summoning spirits on stage. His arms flailed up and down as he pulled on the strings of his players, encouraging them to build in volume. His own shrill, droning voice occasionally pierced the clouds of noise generated by his company.
Audience interaction was limited as usual for Gira. The 62-year-old chief did request that some of the people he spied texting in the front rows cut it out. He reminded them he’s been performing for 37 years and bemoaned the distraction of text messaging as “the end of the human race.” But he did playfully admit its utility and asked those glued to their cellphones to take it to the back.
The remainder of the set paid dues to the latest release. Over the course of the show, the band played just six of their notoriously lengthy tracks. They rounded it out with the title track of “The Glowing Man,” which weighs in at a whopping 28 minutes.
Swans is pretty much built on layers and layers of inaccessibility. They play at excessively loud levels. Their songs border on neverending. They are not very melodious — you certainly can’t sing along to their music. Listening to their recordings can be a challenge.
But watching these incredibly apt artists on stage, playing in perfect synchronization as they emanate unearthly sounds, was an undeniably rewarding experience.