There’s a risk going back after you’ve seen a truly great gig. And Swans at Koko 18 months ago was literally awesome. Enough that you feared that in the oversize Anderson shelter of the smaller Cockpit you might be the wrong side of the protective walls.
First though there was Jenny Hval. With her asymmetric hair and striped top she reminded you of the Mekons’ Sally Timms. That’s definitely an auspicious start for a Leeds audience. And while very different in powerful voice and performance, her avant-garde looping and experimentation made a natural fit for supporting Swans. It can be a hard thing for a support act to rouse a Yorkshire crowd, but had time not been pressing (it’s Swans, there’s always at least 2 and half hours to fit in) you feel they might very nearly have called her back for an encore.
Of course Swans were different to last time. The sheer physical tsunamis of sound didn’t feature. They were still loud of course (oh yes), still forceful, still delirious, but less monolithic. Instead their sound strained like some gargantuan tethered animal. It stomped. It wheezed massive asthmatic breaths. It even beat the air with the whum whum of gigantic leathery wings. But above all, in keeping with new record To Be Kind, it was something of a slinky beast.
Perhaps because of the greyhairs* churning it out there was something seedy about the groove. And groove though it was, it wasn’t for dancing to. Over time (and if there’s one thing Swans give themselves, it’s time) whether through simple, relentless repetition or something more deliberate, each example slowly ossified into a march. Which of course was fine (you’ll be massively unsurprised to learn that it wasn’t exactly a dancing crowd). More than fine. Swans might not be the loudest band in the world. They might have been offering something less euphoric than the manipulative walls of sound last time. But in doing something different, they’re still pretty much the best live band around.
*apart from Thor Harris, who in his downy toplessness, extravagantly cheery beard and abundant energy on stage resembles nothing so much as a Dr Seuss character – almost certainly from Dr Seuss’s Guide to the Orchestra, given that he cycles through gong, chimes, trombone, clarinet and violin as well as keyboards and thunderous additional drumming