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Live Review: Swans & Christoph Hahn

19 February 2013 | 9:07 am | Bob Baker Fish

Many bands fade away with age, but for Swans it’s only made them more menacing.

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The Corner stage is overflowing with equipment. There are walls of Orange and Marshall stacks, leaving little room for musicians. The message is clear: it's gonna get loud. Yet it doesn't start that way, with Christoph Hahn, also a member of Swans, as the solo support. Crooning over wonky electric guitar, a life lived hard is etched across his heavily textured face – to the extent that it's pretty much a performance in itself. 

Swans too look like they've seen better days. Frontman Michael Gira simultaneously conjures dark Francophile violence and backwoods hillbilly seediness, taut and primed by a combination of age and the rivers of intensity that percolate beneath his surface.  

They bring the noise and it's incredible, pure, primal, visceral and unrelenting; locked groove riffs mechanically pounding over and over, almost drowning the listener. There's darkness here and it's all emanating from Gira. It's difficult not to feel the music as an audio representation of his twisted psychosis. He leans and sways, waving his arms in the air in strange circular motions, conducting the band, or perhaps conjuring up a bleak spell. It's rock music, wielded like a weapon, distended and tortured by Gira's peculiar vision and augmented by elongated drones, difficult pitches, bells, pedal steel, clarinet and gongs. Whilst they're playing songs with Gira alternatively chanting or wailing phrases like “put your knife in me” (Coward) there's also improvisation. That's if you call Gira prowling the stage demanding instruments and ways of playing from the band improvisation. Rarely do you see a band leader screaming at their bass player to go faster. When the drummer misses a cue Gira looks like he's about to murder him.

Everything about Swans is intense. Gira's shamanistic/control freak stage presence and the cumulative effect of the music itself, which clocks in at two and a half hours, bombards the audience with endless crescendos – it's visceral and unrelenting. Many bands fade away with age, but for Swans it's only made them more menacing.

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