Columbus Theater, Providence, RI
Review and photos by John Keegan
February 18, 2015
The kid said that "Swans never disappoint". If this
show is any indication, he got it right. The songs of the Swans
are monolithic. Graphed, their fractal patterns form a repeating histogram.
Six songs. Six, three dimensional rectangles. A regression line moves
through each and all from lower left to upper right, 0 to 11 on the
Y and Z axis.
Thor Harris starts the walk on by tuning up his gong.
The patterns ripple and shift, whisper and roil. Drummer Phil
Puleo stands at his kit and whirls the sizzle of his cymbals
into and out of the vibrations of the gong. Christoph Hahn
annoys the pedal steel's strings. Norman Westberg's
guitar punctuates time with color, squiggles and short perseverations.
Chris Pravdica's low end is immense - you feel it in
The individual instruments meld into soaring, looping rhythms. Incidental
pastoral moments of less volume and less harsh vocals surge into post
rock catharsis. Thor Harris' percussion contributions
on hammered tubular bells, twisted dulcimer and roaring trombone are
clear and substantial in the din. Michael Gira grand
marshals the Cloud of Unknowing swirl with his rhythm guitar
and almost lilting vocal. He cues the changes with a nod, a mute count
off or a jab of his Les Paul. The songs' arcing sectional improvisations
don't sweat the move from A to B. Finally, at C, a huge bass riff collects
the congregants. Thor layers in an electric violin.
Gira orchestrates a squall of crescendo - everyone
at cross purposes - held together by the gargantuan bass line, the ranting
vocal and Gira's omniscient third eye.
Gira had called the crowd to his revival tent out
behind the abattoir. He insisted they come forward to the pulpit. The
woozy steel patterns establish Just a Little Boy (for Chester
Barnett). Its wayward spikes and Gira's incantatory
talk sing draw the stragglers through the tent flap. Come to communion.
Put this on your tongue. Breathe. Turn out the lights. Ride the sound.
Take the blue bus. I Forget grinds to a cymbal heavy conclusion.
Gira bleats out his lyrics at the heart of a cyclone
of sound. His eyelids flicker. His guitar hangs limp from his shoulder.
His arms flap slowly. His hands flicker in the half-light. He reaches
into a box full of agitated, venomous music snakes. He pulls them from
the box and holds them up for adoration. They slither along his arms and
neck and slip into and out of his eyes.