Swans @ Òran Mór, Glasgow, 18 May
Swans are known for making very lengthy, very loud music. They also have a fierce live reputation as when this music is transferred to the live setting it makes for a remarkably intense experience. Performing for over two hours, with no breaks, and only playing five songs is not your standard rock concert.
'Intense' is the operative word at a Swans show. They open with an unreleased song, The Knot, which builds very slowly (even by Swans standards) to a pummelling crescendo about 20-30 minutes in, demonstrating the 'noise' aspect of their style. From there they move through Screen Shot and the epic Cloud of Unknowing. Sandwiched between two almost-40 minute monoliths, Screen Shot comes across as an interlude – a snappy, punk cut – despite it running to almost ten minutes itself.
Michael Gira is an imposing presence at every turn; even when thanking the crowd between songs he is taciturn and solemn, though he seems to greatly appreciate the support. During songs, he is wholly engrossed in the music, delivering deep, repetitive phrases like a Gregorian monk and conducting the band with his wild gesticulations. He lifts and drags the music from his bandmates, pushes it towards the crowd, reels it in and raises it to the roof.
Gira cuts a shamanic figure on stage and his efforts at transcendence are reciprocated by the crowd as they slowly warm to the performance. There is a suspicious thinning of the ranks as the show goes on, despite the unananimously uproarious reception (possibly due to the loudness), but by the closing 10-15 minutes of The Glowing Man the audience are lapping it up.
Despite the occasionally cacophonous, constantly intense nature of this music, Michael Gira's Swans wring out the beauty from each available moment and the rapturous applause that ends the show is testament to a genuine reaction from an adoring audience.