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Live Review: Swans

20 January 2015 | 10:07 am | Imogen Elliot

Swans left the audience hooked and wanting more at MONA FOMA.

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You know a performance was loud when, despite ear plugs being made mandatory, the audience leaves with ringing ears.

New York-based group Swans are known for pushing sonic and instrumental boundaries and true to form, on the Saturday night of the MONA FOMA festival they delivered an ear-bending performance that shook the walls of Princes Wharf 1 in Hobart.

Led by multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and original band member Michael Gira, Swans put on a show of no-wave experimental compositions that, while reminiscent of their earlier records from the 1980s, demonstrated they’ve developed their sound significantly.

Using a range of instruments including a lap steel guitar played by Christoph Hahn and a stringed dulcimer used by a mostly shirtless Thor Harris, the group performed extended versions of tracks from their most recent record, 2014’s To Be Kind, and presented fans with the future rather than recycled products of their past.

Gira’s sporadic vocals sounded spiritual rather than aggressive and as he waved his arms in the air during a ten-minute breakdown he looked like a witch conjuring dark spirits. Each group member was so heavily involved in their instruments that the performance appeared more than just a show; it was a sonic experience for both the musicians and the audience.

Bassist Christopher Pravdica looked to Gira for instruction during the performance and was pushed to play harder and faster than he looked like he could handle. Sweat dribbled down to his chin and his knuckles no doubt bled, but a smile remained on his face and it became clear that these musicians enjoy being pushed to their limits and making sounds louder and more hardcore than any of their peers.

Swans are truly innovative, passionate and intent on surprising fans with every record. One of the heaviest acts to play at the festival, Swans maximised the capabilities of their equipment and left the crowd itching for more, like newly-hooked drug addicts.