Live: Swans Attempt To Murder Us All At Brooklyn Masonic Temple
Better than: Primal-scream therapy
And back we go to the Loudest Venue In New York City, to be summarily pulverized by the freshly reunited Loudest, Angriest Band on Earth. Our first audience casualty doubles over at about the 35-minute mark and is gingerly escorted out by his similarly ashen-faced buddies, pummeled with feedback, impaled by the martial stomp, and generally terrified by Swans mastermind Michael Gira, who strides onstage and stares us down like we're the toughest-looking guy in the prison yard, slaps his face several times, and proceeds for the next 100 minutes to put on as mesmerizing a display of feral frontman magnetism as you could possibly ask for, or withstand.
Swans began in 1982 and, prior to this year, had been inactive since '97, which explains the rampant greyness/haggardness onstage. But that only adds to the six-man crew's ludicrous glowering menace, their nihilistic post-apocalyptic post-punk as thunderous and concussive as ever, Gira front and center ranting like a doomsday preacher, rocking back and forth, tracing slow circles with his hands, shaking violently as though caught mid-exorcism, visibly hyperventilating, etc. etc. He points at a bare spot onstage and two trombone players materialize; he spurs them on or silences them with single deadly glance. It's a command performance, worthy of the Glowering Menace Hall of Fame. (To date the single scariest moment of my concert-going career was watching Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds walk onstage.) Not that he's joyless -- he smiles broadly when he notices that his bassist has busted a string that's not just hanging there looking like an industrial-strength bridge cable. "Is this fun?" he asks us, smirking, deadly serious. "I'm having fun."
The setlist is heavy on this year's mercurial, deceptively placid My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (no "You Fucking People Make Me Sick," alas, but the sentiment is still conveyed), with a detour into a couple tracks from 1989's venomous Children of God: The seasick two-chord march of "Sex, God, Sex" features Gira's magnificent self-flagellation ("I am sexless/I am foul") and a capella lamentations to Jesus; "Beautiful Child" is almost unbearably intense, Gira screaming "THIS IS MY ONLY REGRET/THAT I EVER WAS BORN/THIS IS MMMYYYYYY SACRIFICE." His band renders all this two-fisted fire and brimstone with total precision and a bizarre sensual undercurrent (there's no way to play drums in this band without being shirtless), the end result both exhausting and weirdly purifying. I don't know if I could survive this again, but I would definitely like to try.
Critical Bias: This was probably the best Murdered at Brooklyn Masonic Temple show yet: more charisma than Neurosis, more trepidation than Sleep, better visibility than Sunn O)))).
Overheard: A stupendously drunk woman right next to me yells all sorts of shit, both at Gira ("You're so fucking sexy," "I'll put my pussy in your face," "You got a pretty mouth, boy") and at another woman in front of her who's apparently blocking her view ("Fuck off! Fuck off! Fuck the fuck off!") The dudes in the band look alarmed.
Random Notebook Dump: Steve Buscemi and Sasha Grey both spotted in the crowd. Not together.
No Words, No Thoughts
Sex, God, Sex