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Swans - KOKO, London, 15/11/2012

  by Chris O'Toole

published: 6 / 12 / 2012

Swans - KOKO, London, 15/11/2012


Chrisn O' Toole watches reformed American post-punks Swans play an intense, but brilliant set at the KOKO in London

A stopped glitter ball hangs silently in the air, a pregnant smoke rises. Excitement flickers across the faces of the audience, tempered only with a hint of fear. Surely the tall tales must have been exaggerated? But they were more than rumours, more scare stories I suppose; people vomiting under the intense pressure of the Swans live show, band leader Michael Gira locking the doors so there could be no escape? How much of it could be true? But them, when was the last time something truly lived up to your expectations? Ever? Surely having reassembled his band - THIS IS NOT A REUNION, he has been quick to emphasise in interviews - Gira would be the one man to deliver? And here they are for a tour of the world, seemingly paid for with bottle caps and sweet wrappers; here they are! Here they are; magnificent! Gira strikes a crucifixion pose and we begin, begin to build toward the first of many crescendos. Proving his irrepressible nature, Gira opens with new track ‘To Be Kind’, chanting “millions of stars, in your eyes” over and over as he stares blankly into the crowd. They play for three hours, mixing songs from their many incarnations, but the set builds continuously, each peak eclipsing the last as the momentum builds toward a towering finale. ‘Avatar’ from this year’s ‘The Seer’ double-album comes and goes, while ‘Raping a Slave’ elicits a cheer or recognition from the audience. ‘Coward’ is one of the few nods to the past. But the individual pieces are inconsequential beside the overall intensity of the performance. Gira is a crazed bandleader in the centre stage, willing his cast of players to ever great heights. Not least among them is percussionist Thor Harris – he really is called Thor – who pummels the drums in honour of his namesake. Second drummer Phil Puleo adds to the momentum, while bassist Chris Pravdica magnificently mercilessly pounds his instrument. Old hand Norman Westberg looks as though he has seen it all before, but adds layers of screaming noise to the din, while a politely seated Christoph Hahn does unholy things to his steel guitar. But the whole cast bows to the will of the ringmaster, who seems to have rediscovered the demons that had haunted him before Swans originally split in the 1990s. Tonight he is a man searching for something; Salvation? Redemption? A decent pay cheque for those years of toil? No matter, his motivation is immaterial; he is here, in full flow. The KOKO rocks on its foundations, as one monument is built before being bulldozed to make way for the next. As the climax approaches Gira towers above the audience, pummeling one final glory from his band. This is what he missed with Angels of Light, what the world has missed, a truly terrifying spectacle capable of annihilating any pretender to his demonic crown. It was all true. The rumours were all true. Swans delivered everything that was promised, and so much more! The photographs that accompany this article were taken for Pennyblackmusic by Neil Bailey.

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Interview (2013)
Swans - Interview
Paul Waller talks to New York-based experimental musician Michael Gira about taking his abrasive band Swans back out on the road again and their recent album, 'The Seer'
Interview (2010)
Interview (2010)

live reviews

Academy, Manchester, 30/10/2010
Helen Tipping is disappointed to find reformed American post-punk act Swans having devlooped a prog rock sound in their fourteen year absence in a show at the Academy in Manchester



The Glowing Man (2016)
Overwhelming but repetitive double album and the final one in the present line-up of Swans before it calls it a day
White Light from the Mouth of Infinity/ Love of Life (2016)
To Be Kind (2014)
The Seer (2012)
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