In the past, I’ve had many gripes with The Arches as a venue as being beautiful and potential-brimming space, which, often underachieves due to sound and sight line issues – tonight, all of that is forgotten.
Though there is a minor annoyance at the main act performing earlier than their advertised time, causing some to miss the start, right from the moment that the audience hears them they are put under a collective trance.
I make no bones about it – this band and this venue were meant for each other.
The legendary Michael Gira led New York noise group are not a particularly visual band, but they sound absolutely massive here.
Through the near two-hour set, Gira orchestrates his assorted musical daemons to create a tremendous, hellish sound that hypnotises everyone and anyone (un)-fortunate enough to be near.
The band (if you can call them that) does not perform songs as such as movements, akin to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s grandioseness, but with an unmatched level of dark, brooding intensity that swells and crashes and rises and, occasionally, falls.
Though the group does break up ‘songs’ the claustrophobic feeling of it all never really lets up the entire time, creating a sense of timelessness and apocalypse – will this noise ever end? Do I want it to? Is it in fact the end of the world?
What’s really special about the performance is inherent in that word itself – a performance.
One can listen and enjoy (if that is the right word) to Swans’ entire back-catalogue, but you can never really fully experience them until you see, hear or feel them in front of you.
I mentioned before that Swans are not a particularly visual act, and while that much is true, there’s still something vital about being in their presence, watching the (mostly Gira led) calls and responses the group activate in the middle of a 20 minute masterpiece; it’s nothing really related to how rock music, as it generally known, is used to and yet there is an underlying punk aesthetic that drives the whole thing forward, keeps it from becoming a completely incomprehensible mess.
It’s an all at once incredible, transcendent, terrifying experience that, should you ever get the chance, you must put yourself through just to see what the true limits of music can be stretched to.
Words: Adam Turner-Heffer
Photos: Stuart Westwood