24/05 – Arches
On my way to the Arches I googled ‘Swans live’ (something I rarely do before a gig) and to my surprise I quickly learned that several bloggers and publications classify them as the “loudest band in the world”. This surprise fuelled my eager anticipation and it was only when I got to the venue and realized that over 80% of the audience were wearing ear plugs, this anticipation changed into a delicate fear. For the first time in 24 years of sonic exposure, I succumbed to a sort-of panic-mode before the gig even started.
I was only about 20 feet from the stage when Thor Harris (the percussionist – his first name does nothing but justice to what he actually does on stage) started hammering on a massive Chinese gong accompanied by soft touches on tubular bells. After about three minutes the sound encapsulated the entire 1000-capacity venue making any other form of sound inaudible and defunct. He was then joined by the rest of the band (including the now 60-year old frontman Michael Gira) and when one thought it couldn’t get louder than this, the bass and heavily distorted guitar made an entrance. I was able to feel my entire body vibrate.
For approximately 5 minutes, Swans become more of an endurance test. However, once the ears acclimatize themselves and manage to spot tonal differences within the noise; their music becomes unearthly, ethereal and chaotically beautiful. They manage to set a landmark in what noise-rock and experimental soundscape can achieve. Their latest album is deservedly regarded as one of the best albums of the noise-rock/experimental genre of the decade.
Their live shows do nothing but celebrate that in a loud, gut-wrenching, beautifully exhausting manner where noise develops more meaning and beauty than the most touching harmonies in pop music.