Swans at the Button Factory – Photos and Review
Since founding member and front-man Michael Gira reformed Swans in 2010, the band have released three critically acclaimed albums and toured extensively, receiving widespread praise for their captivating live performances. Their 2014 release To Be Kind is arguably the finest album of their career, full of lengthy, improvisational tracks which were largely developed on their previous tour in support of The Seer. Swans’ impressive back-catalogue, along with the high esteem in which their live shows are held, ensured that expectations among the crowd in The Button Factory on Monday night were very high indeed. Word on the street suggested that a Swans show was a different beast to any other live music experience and probably the loudest gig you’re ever likely to attend. I didn’t think it would be possible for the band to live up to these hyperbolic statements, but they did just that, and more.
Undoubtedly the loudest gig I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending, Gira and the rest of the band create a cocoon of noise, enveloping the audience for the duration of their lengthy set. Listening to their studio albums on a good pair of headphones is an experience in itself, but nothing could have prepared me for the sea of noise that washed over the venue. Swans don’t just want you to hear the music, they want it to absolutely shake you to your core. Despite the improvisational nature of their music and the lack of rigid structure to their songs, the band share a wonderful understanding with one another, combining their instrumentation effortlessly to create the cacophony of noise.
The musicianship on display is wonderful, with the performance orchestrated by the demented shaman, Michael Gira, playing the role of conductor. The band’s driving force informs the audience that he’s put his back out and can’t move around as much as he normally would, but like the music, he remains hypnotic throughout, dominating the stage and providing a centrepiece for the swirling tornado of sound. Gira is a unique performer, howling, snarling and spitting lyrics at the audience, all the while, raising his hands to the sky in an almost ritualistic fashion, summoning the malevolent spirits that drive his vocal delivery. During the instrumental sections of the lengthy songs, he sways across the centre of the stage, gazing vacantly around the room, enraptured by the art of performance. As ‘Just a Little Boy (For Chester Burnett)’ draws to a close, Gira chants the words “living in a wonderland” over and over again. Gira’s wonderland is undoubtedly darker than anything Lewis Carroll’s Alice may have experienced, but it is no less enthralling. When Swans perform live, they drag the audience into their own menacing wonderland and it’s a truly entrancing experience.
There aren’t many pauses for breath throughout the typically lengthy, intense show that Swans put on, but every time they do allow a brief moment of respite, the adoration of the audience is clear to see. Despite a lengthy touring career and countless live performances down through the years, the band seem genuinely humbled by the outpouring of love from the audience in The Button Factory. Gira has something of a reputation for not taking kindly to certain audience behaviours, namely the prominence of smartphones in recent times, but he responds to Monday night’s audience with nothing but gratitude and good-will. His passion for creation and performance is unparalleled, he just wants to share his music in a live setting. Luckily, this is something that Gira, and Swans, manage better than just about anyone else.