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Live Review: Swans & Christoph Hahn

18 February 2013 | 2:04 pm | Andrew McDonald

This set was draining, physically and emotionally, to be sure, and could be seen as being music for masochists; but there was beauty in the brutality.

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There's no easy way to open for a band like Swans, so it made sense that the band's lap-steel guitarist Christoph Hahn would assume the stage before the main event. Hahn, without accompaniment, strummed his way through a set of minimalist electric folk songs with the occasional experimental or no-wave flourish. Unsurprisingly, the crowd loved the more outsider (Swans-esque) material and in its own way, this was perfect to ready the crowd.

The night, though, obviously belonged to Swans and their leader and frontman Michael Gira. Despite ostensibly touring on the back of their incredible 2012 release, The Seer, the band played a set of mainly new material, opening with To Be Kind. The track was a minimalist, almost droning ambient tune that suddenly burst into a series of noise rock explosions. This tone-setting powerhouse was followed with an even more relentless noise effort, all of which was seemingly conducted by Gira, who strode around the stage barking orders at his band mates. It speaks to Swans power and bravery as a group that they would open with some 20 minutes of new material before even saying hello.

Musically, the band omitted the glimpses of frailty and delicacy they show on the record and become an entirely different beast; noise and unrelenting power are their stock and trade.

The final suite, which lasted over an hour and featured key segments from The Seer, showcased all of the band's mastery of loud music. Drone, noise, no-wave, post-punk and post-rock crescendos all came together in a beautiful cacophony. The catharsis one can derive from a punishing show like Swans perform is indescribable. The notion of 'pleasure' in terms of music ceases to be an issue (it goes out the window with ideas of traditional melody) when the physical effect of the songs is so wonderfully exhausting. This set was draining, physically and emotionally, to be sure, and could be seen as being music for masochists; but there was beauty in the brutality and for the entirety of the two-hour-plus show, the crowd felt it.

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