Thursday, February 26, 2015

Swans at the Bowery Ballroom

Michael Gira
Michael Gira was born in Los Angeles, California, but as a youth relocated to Europe with his father. He hitchhiked across the continent, and spent four and a half months in an adult jail in Israel for selling drugs. He turned 16 when in jail. He then came back to California and worked at a bakery, and later supported himself through college by painting houses. He moved to New York City in 1979, where he played in Circus Mort before forming the experimental band Swans in 1982. Initially part of the no-wave movement, Swans recorded 10 albums before Gira retired the noise-rock band in 1997. In 1999, Gira formed another band, Angels of Light, and years later, while playing in that band, he felt inspired to revamp Swans, although this desire materialized years later, in 2010. Throughout its history, Swans changed members than 20 times, and presently consists of Gira on guitar and vocals, Norman Westberg on guitar, Christoph Hahn on guitar and lap steel guitar, Christopher Pravdica on bass guitar, Thor Harris on drums, percussion, vibes, dulcimer, and keyboards, and Phil Puleo on drums, percussion and dulcimer. Swans' most recent album is 2014's To Be Kind.

Swans' style of noise rock went through many transitions over the decades, from loud and abrasive brutality to ominous and ethereal soundscapes to more conventional rock. At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, the sonic thrust of earlier times often was replaced by more tranquil sounds. Hypnotic repetition was still the fabric of many compositions, even as the set started with an extended Chinese gong solo. Songs were lengthy and intentionally monotonous dirges. With a lack of directional buildup or crescendo, it was difficult to determine when a song should or would end. This ironically became the downfall of the performance. While the audience had the sense of entry into the mind of a creative artist, ultimately these drawn-out compositions passed the saturation point and marched into headlong boredom. Listeners became spectators, and Gira and company could not always sustain the attention of audiences traditionally attuned to entertainment on stage. Not that Gira's artistry was suspect or incredulous, but a bit of dynamics would have brought his musical fruits to a more satisfying end.