Swans - The Arches, Glasgow, Sat 24 May 2014
Clarity of recent work increasingly lost in self-indulgent and vulgar displays of power
Although Michael Gira rejects the nostalgia that usually accompanies the reformation of fondly remembered bands, this incarnation of Swans looks backwards for inspiration. The ferocity of the double drummers, Gira’s tortured growl and the layers of guitar noise evoke the time when Swans were important – the 1980s, when Gira took post-punk anger to its logical, slow conclusion – while the orchestration of unexpected instruments, including Christoph Hahn’s lap steel guitar and Thor Harris’ violin and trombone, hints at their explosive, psychedelic phase of the early 1990s.
Once again, the acoustics of the Arches undermine the grandeur of the band’s ambition. However, Gira fails to help by frequently singing out of tune and enacting all manner of rock star posturing, including a dance number that appears to be an impression of The Office’s David Brent. The deep grooves that have become Gira’s recent preoccupation are present and devastating in small doses, with the band unearthing a surprising funk and swing beneath the intensity.
Ironically, Swans sound at their best when they most closely follow the template of 1970s German ‘motorik’ rock, the repetition harnessed to a driving beat and Gira’s vocals devolving into snatches of incoherent anguish. Gira’s bold decision to ignore his past recordings doesn't, unfortunately, mean that he can avoid his legacy. The clarity of even recent album The Seer is increasingly lost in self-indulgent and vulgar displays of power.