The legendary New York no wave band Swans are thriving once again, pummeling audiences with their sweeping, all-enveloping sound. And one by one, band members took to the Beachland Ballroom stage Friday night, each to their respective stations to construct an ominous extended intro.
Frontman Michael Gira was the last of the wild bunch to emerge, appreciatively tipping his cowboy hat to the crowd.
After 15 minutes of rising action — church bells chiming, bass rolling, the dulcimer looping, guitars stirring the voluminous stew — the band broke into the heart of “No Words/No Thoughts,” the opening track from 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.
The deafening attack rarely granted space to breathe over the course of the two-hour set, with every crevice of the Beachland invaded by thick, reverberating energy.
It was massive, even for those prepared with earplugs. But still, there was an inkling that Swans were holding back, road-weary and perhaps reacting to the reasonably docile crowd (many recent shows have reported sets expanding well beyond the two hour mark).
Yet that mild concern might have been my imagination, as it was easy to get lost in the looming black hole these harrowing noiseniks conjured. It’s like asking to get our asses kicked just a little while longer… please.
Swans treated us to the terrific recent material, new songs that will allegedly surface on an upcoming album in 2012, and they even dipped back into their ‘80s bile twice, casting longer shadows over industrial gravestones.
“I Crawled” (from 1984's Young God) flaunted spastic firecracker drumming, compliments of Phil Puleo and Shearwater's Thor Harris, who later also contributed clarinet.
Heavy washes of guitar signaled “Sex, God, Sex” (from 1987's Children of God), a song that features some of Gira’s most impassioned vocals.
That’s not to downplay the new material, or the rousing encore of “Little Mouth.”
None of this should completely overshadow opener Sir Richard Bishop’s comical storytelling and dizzying fretwork, which recalled Django Reinhardt and North Indian raga, to avoid typecasting it as gypsy gibberish. —Michael Tkach