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The Windmill, Brixton
Good Friday, 14th April 2017
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Gig Review

Swans / Sir Richard Bishop
Koko, London

Article written by Matt H - Nov 16, 2012

Swans - all the activity is under the surface
Sir Richard Bishop might be the perfect support act. Sat alone, looking a bit gnarled, he belts seven bells out of an old guitar. There’s heavy handed (in a good way) flamencoish and countryish instrumentals and a nice line in ornery, lewd modern folk songs. The sort of thing that a rock audience is all the happier to lend an ear to post-Seasick Steve. He’s entertaining and obviously a favourite of Michael Gira, who scampers on at the end with a big smile to help garner the right level of applause.

Rock music too is an old people's game now. Turning from the 'burn brightly and fade' path, there's a bunch of groups who have just taken it upon themselves to get better and better. To really master the business of making a bloody great racket. Wedding artisanal musical skills to genuine artistic nous to conjure more or less what they bloody well like, they command a stage with the sort of utter confidence that suggest they can produce whatever sound they put their mind to and do so unerringly. The Bad Seeds have it, Richard Hawley's band have it. And Swans might be best of all.

They unleashed upon a packed Koko a wonderfully controlled manipulation of sound and emotion, The initial, gradually built, sonic tension was so great that the inevitable violent release was a relief and properly joyous rather than intimidating. From there they shifted the room this way and that for the best part of three hours. As the show unfurled in 7 or 8 movements there was no room really for their introspective folky side. Swans have never really been about individual songs, and the bits you could put a title to (I'm sure there was a bit of Coward here, Apostate there) were just points to take off from. The sound came in tsunamis rather than waves, relentless and continuous, finding ways to build volume upon volume to startling effect - to be felt in the skeleton as much as the ears (which curiously aren't suffering much the following morning - the sound was exceptionally 'clean'). Gira at the centre of the storm feeling his way through, conducting his fellows with outstretched arms, waggling fingers and big physical guitar-toting leaps, conjuring relentless repetitive explosions of sound, sometimes adding his voice to the mix in abstract ways, sometimes unleashing an oddly beautiful croon. The shadows hooded his eyes, inscrutably, until finally he turned grinning to the crowd to recall previous adventures in London. For, despite the physical and emotional intensity, the whole was a euphoric, enjoyable experience, a thoroughly wonderful show. It takes a long time to get this good. Rock music is an old people's game now, and it's all the better for it.


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