Posts Tagged ‘Gig’

Christopher Nosnibor

I’m here as a paying punter. I’m here to pay tribute. As a fan of Swans from my mid-teens in the early 90s, I had never expected to see them play live. But the last seven years have yielded four albums of ever-expanding enormity and ambition; I’ve seen the band play not once, but three times, and had the opportunity to interview Michael Gira, an artist I’ve long admired. I’m here to experience that sonic force one last time, and to thank the band in my own small way for everything they’ve given since returning with My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky in 2010.

The crowd swells steadily during Little Annie’s performance. Little Annie may be petite, as her name suggests, but she’s an awesome presence. She has insane cheekbones and intense eyes – more than once she fixes on me and I feel as if she’s boring into my soul. I fear she knows I failed to complete and publish a review of State of Grace, her 2012 album with Baby Dee. I’m feeling a pang of guilt over it now: she really does have an incredible voice. Rich, with a deep grain and so much soul. Her rendition of Robert Wyatt’s ‘Shipbuilding’ packed so much emotion, and she remarked that she wished the song wasn’t still relevant today. Closing a set of originals and covers, she seemed genuinely moved by the enthusiastic and vocal audience response.

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Little Annie

Between acts, I was surprised to learn just how many of those who packed down the front were not hardened Swans gig-goers, but first-times, many half my age and only relatively recently acquainted with the band (standing there, on my own, sporting a fedora and a shirt with the Greed cover art on the front seemed a prompt for people to gravitate toward me and strike up conversations for some reason). I told them to get to the bar and get themselves some earplugs if they wanted to live.

Swans take to the stage at 8:30 prompt and begin to work a single throbbing drone. Ten to fifteen minutes later, not much has changed beyond the volume and intensity with which it’s played. Whereas once Swans were all about delivering a sustained and brutal assault, latter day Swans are very much focused on the slow-build.

Swans 1

Swans

“I hope they play ‘Screen Shot’ one enthusiastic youth had said to me beforehand. Having done a spot of research on Setlist.FM, I was fairly confident that they would but instead pointed out that Swans’ live sets were less song-orientated and primarily concerned with the end-to-end succession of ebbs and flows and immense, sustained crescendos. They do play ‘Screen Shot’, and, indeed, the set broadly has the shape of the performance captured on the new live album Deliquescence. In other words, the bulk of the set is centred around ever-evolving performances of material from The Glowing Man and contains extended workouts unavailable in studio form and developed through the live performances. This may be the final tour of this iteration of the band, but they’re not looking back: there’s no ‘Oxygen’ or ‘A Little God in My Hands’, and there’s sure as hell no ‘Your Property’ or any other material hauled from the back catalogue to pander to any old-timers hankering after the classics of the band’s previous existence.

During tonight’s show, from my vantage in the front row, it’s hard to be certain if they achieve the totally annihilative volume I’ve witnessed previously, on account of the fact I’m in the front row. While the full force of Norman Westberg’s guitar and Christopher Pravdica’s bass amps blasting me at face level, and the band’s staggeringly vast backline being the primary source of sound, the comparative levels of the drums and vocals through the PA are dramatically reduced.

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Swans

Westberg’s patient guitar playing – he chews gum and nonchalantly cranks out a single chord for an eternity without blinking – sits perfectly against Pravdica’s tetchy, repetitive grooves, while Christoph Hahn remains dapper, hair slicked back, while torturing lap steel in the most unimaginable and sadistic of fashions.

The absence of Thor Harris does have an effect on the sound: the burly, hirsute percussionist brought heightened detail and texture to the band’s immense sound and both he and his huge gong brought something to the visual aspect of the show. Not that thee six men on stage produce a sound which lacks depth, range and detail, tonally or musically, and similarly, to witness six musicians play so cohesively, so naturally, while working so incredibly hard is quite something to behold. The expressions on their faces are of intense concentration but they do occasionally shoot one another knowing smiles and even break big grins from time to time. Gira’s unique and inimitable style of conducting his companions and the way the sound seems to be shaped, sculpted in real-time by his flailing arms and stomping feet isn’t a sight one easily forgets.

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Swans

Perhaps even more than on the swirling, two-hour long exploration which is The Glowing Man, the band’s – and no doubt given his recent comments about the future direction of the Swans project in its next phase – Gira’s growing interest in evolving a more abstract style of musical form is placed into sharp relief over the course of this endurance test of a set comprising a mere five pieces and with a duration fractionally in excess of two and a half houurs. He has the lyrics on laminated A4 sheets on a stand in front of him, but his vocal utterances are few and far between, and when not consisting of wordless drones and ululations, the syllables are elongated to abstraction and unintelligibility. This isn’t a problem or a criticism: it simply illustrates Gira’s move towards exploring the language of sound without the need for actual language.

After the show has been brought to a shuddering climax, they stand in line to receive a lengthy – and more than well-deserved – ovation. Gira introduces the players in turn before they take three long, leisurely and appreciative bows. We know we’ve witnessed something special, and, moreover, there is a sense of occasion. This is the end of an era. It’s been scary, unsettling, and nothing short of amazing. Swans: we thank you.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Heaven may not be a venue one would immediately associate with heavy, heavy noise, but tonight it’s packed with a broad demographic that only a show as genre-smashing as the line-up would be likely to draw.

Bong are only just setting up their kit five minutes before they’re due on stage, but despite the absence of a proper soundcheck, they sound every bit as mighty as they ought. The Newcastle trio take their time, grinding out power chords with endless sustain without mercy during a half-hour set that contains just a single track. Epic is indeed the word. For all the leaning toward the doomy, droney low end, the guitar packs a crackling treble hit, which balances the sound against the shuddering, throbbing bass and the megalithic drumming, each thunderous beat registering individually on the Richter scale, crashing heavy through the 20bpm dirge with stutters and pauses to maximise the impact of each stroke. Their thirty-minute set consists of just one song. And this is precisely the way it should be: the band use the allotted time to fully demonstrate the expansive nature of their sound and compositions. This is heavy, grinding two-chord dredging pushed to the max and is designed to simultaneously batter and hypnotise the audience, and they deliver it beautifully.

Bong

Bong

If the reality of the studio realisation of Concrete Desert, the collaborative project which saw The Bug’s dubby dancehall stylings drawn out into infinite regressions of reverb as they collided with the dark drone of Earth’s earlier works felt somewhat restrained, and at times bordered on the ambient, in a live setting, the dynamics prove to be altogether different. Perhaps The Bug’s input felt somewhat muted on the release, as Carson’s murky, chiming ambient drones dominated he sound. Sure, the stealthy, bulbous bass and clacking beats, paired with quavering guitar notes which occupy the album’s grooves are atmospheric, but it often feels somewhat cautious, even subdued. Live, however, it’s an entirely different proposition and it feels far more like an equal partnership.

On the surface, the pair exist – and perform – in entirely separate, personal spaces, despite sharing a stage. The Bug – aka Kevin Martin – and Dylan Carlson, representing Earth, stand apart, separated by a wall of equipment: Martin is surrounded by banks of electronic gadgetry and stands focused on his Apple laptop for the majority of the set, while Carlson stands, side-on to the audience, one eye on Martin as he cranks out deep, seething drones and sculpted feedback squalls of noise.

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The Bug vs Dylan Carlson

Volume matters, and can so often prove to be integral to the live music experience: and this is loud. Proper, seriously, loud. Martin begins by sending bibbling waves of electronica out in juxtaposition to Carlson’s screeds of guitar: before long, it’s a veritable sonic tsunami as thunderous bass and violent blasts of percussion crash against a wall of relentlessly dense multitonal noise bleeding in every direction from Carlson’s fretboard. The bass frequencies – and gut-churning volume – are something else. Confetti glued by static electricity or other means to the venue’s high ceiling after being blasted out during the venue’s famous club nights shower down on band and audience alike as the thunderous vibrations rattle every molecule of the building’s interior fabric as well as my nostrils, my trousers and every inch of my flesh.

Many of the compositions are unrecognisable in relation to their studio counterparts, so radically reworked and so much more up front are the dynamics. This is no stealthy, sedate recreation of the album but something way more attacking and pure in its physicality. This is one of those sets which builds in intensity – and seemingly in volume – as it progresses, and toward the end, the pair drop a colossal slow-burner with slow, deliberate drops of bowel-shuddering bass frequencies: a single note resonates through the floor and the solar plexus for what feels like minutes, and the effect is utterly immersive and all-encompassing. The security guy in front of me, blocking the stairs (Heaven has a very strange arrangement of stairs up to the stag and only limited security at front of house, which is welcome), is clutching his ears despite waring plugs, and while it’s an uplifting euphoric experience which plasters a huge grin on my on face, it’s not hard to fathom why this much bass, and this much guitar, at this kind of volume, would cause discomfort. Because actually, it hurts. And that’s the best thing about it, because this is how it’s meant to be.

Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 4th April 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Despite there being a fair few middle-aged blokes in black jeans milling about, the demographic of the crowd who’ve turned out to Wharf Chambers on a Monday night is pleasingly diverse.

Knifedoutofexistence is one man, Dean Robinson-Saunders. A lone artist with a substantial array of pedals and electronic bits and pieces and a bleak outlook. A fairly standard stereotype on the noise scene. He’s dressed in black, long hair down over his face as he hunches over his spread of kit, laid out on a table on the floor on front of the stage, in near darkness, growling and howling impenetrable intonations of pain and anguish amidst a wall of raging noise. But Knifedoutofesistence stands out by virtue of being making a raging wall of noise that’s texturally interesting, and by the sheer intensity of the performance. He clutches a chain, which he wields and occasionally thrashes against the ground in nihilistic fury.

Knifedoutofexistence

Knifedoutofexistence

A common shortcoming of noise and power electronics shows is that the lineup will be packed out with acts all doing pretty much the same thing, which ultimately gets wearing long before the headliners take the stage. So, credit is definitely due in recognition of the diversity of the bill here.

Circuit Breaker, who’ve been supporting Harbinger Sound label-mates Consumer Electronics around Europe may have proven somewhat divisive amongst the audience members, but the Milton Keynes duo’s brand of dark synth pop, overlayed with screeds of murky guitar provided vital contrast. Wirth his eyes obscured by his hair, and an idiosyncratic style of enunciation which reminds me of Brian Ferry (think the footage of Roxy Music performing ‘Virginia Plain’ on TOTP), I find myself spending much of the set looking at the singer’s teeth. Musically, they’re more like a guitarier, gothier Gary Numan.

Circuit Breaker

Circuit Breaker

Sarah Froelich – aka Sarah Best – has very nice teeth. She also has some serious lung capacity, and opens both her lungs and mouth wide to vent streams of lyrical abrasion. Flipping in a blink of an eye between sultry poses and a serene expression to raging banshee, she presents a formidable and fearsome presence on the stage. Her whole body tenses as she hollers maniacally, giving her performance a ferocious physicality. Wild, unpredictable, dangerous, she’s the perfect foil to Philip Best’s splenetic tirades.

Having seen Best perform with Whitehouse on four occasions between 2003 and 2007, it’s reasonable to expect some crossover in his stage act, but while he still throws the occasional power pose and postures with parodic lasciviousness as he tweaks his nipples, it’s the differences between Consumer Electronics and Whitehouse which are most evident tonight.

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Consumer Electronics

First and foremost, the thudding beats which drive many of the tracks mark a clear separation from the largely arrhythmic noise of the overlords of the Power Electronics genre. There’s a more overt sense of structure and trajectory to the compositions, and while there is noise, there’s also a greater diversity of texture, and a sense of restraint. More than anything, the sonic attack is used as a means of adding emphasis to the lyrical content, rather than something that buries it.

Best’s lyrics have a poetic quality. We’re not talking pretty pastoral vignettes or vogueish socio-political commentary with a hip-hop vibe, but nevertheless, this is not just some guy shouting obscenities in a blind, inarticulate rage. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find rage more articulately expressed, and on numerous occasions during the set, I felt like the Consumer Electronics live experience is in many respects a (brutal, vitriolic) spoken word performance, with the emphasis very much on performance, bolstered by beats and extraneous racket.

Russell Haswell’s contribution to the dynamic shouldn’t be undervalued, either, and his featuring in the current lineup brings new dimensions to the sound. Standing unassumingly at the back, and often nipping off stage, as he unleashes shards of sharp-edged analogue fire.

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Consumer Electronics

There are some tracks that go all-out on the assault – ‘Co-opted’ finds Best and Froelich duelling over the most ferocious delivery of the refrain ‘Cunts! Co-opted by cunts!’, but much of the set, culled largely from the two most recent albums, Estuary English and Dollhouse Songs, shows just how much Consumer Electronics have refined Power Electronics and the extent to which they explore nuance and contrast. Tonight, they’re nowhere near as loud as many Power Electronics acts, not least of all Whitehouse at their most explosive, but the impact of the set is truly immense.

Christopher Nosnibor

I could easily harp at considerable length about the rather disappointing attendance, noting that Man of Moon have received considerable exposure in recent months by way of a tour supporting fellow Scots The Twilight Sad (which is how I came to discover them, and I note singer / guitarist Chris Bainbridge is sporting a Twlight Sad T-shirt on stage) and a fair bit of airplay on 6Music. Another city, another night, you might blame apathy, but Leeds on a Friday night is not apathetic, even when it’s Good Friday and the students are away and people are on holiday. And it would be wrong to blame the band. This is simply what happens when you’ve got Laetitia Sadier playing across town, as well as headline sets from Department M, Sunset Sons, The Stranglers, Lower Slaughter supported by Workin Man Noise Unit, and, perhaps not so much, Eddi Reader and almost a dozen other little gigs. The point is, it’s impossible to be everywhere at once, and being spoiled for choice can have its downsides.

No regrets about my choice, though. Arriving a song or two into Treeboy & Arc’s set, initially, I’m largely indifferent to what appears to be just another college band who’ve brought some daft mates along for the beer and some silly dancing. But they’ve got overtones of early Psychedelic Furs, not just on account of the tom-centric drumming, which works well, but the guitar sound, heavy on chorus with a brittle, metallic flangey sound. It all amounts to an above average take on indie with an 80s alt / post punk vibe (a dash of Echo & the Bunnymen, perhaps). They’re sounding good and by the end of the set, they’ve won me over.

Party Hardly won me over when I caught them in February, alongside Post war Glamour Girls supporting Fizzy Blood for their single launch. I’m not saying I’d rush out to buy their music or actively listen to it at home, but they’re a more than passable live act whose competent indie rock stylings hint at The Smiths filtered through a 90s reimagining. With positive vibes, good energy and some strong, hooky songs, there’s not a lot to dislike here.

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Party Hardly

With a brace of dates south of the border (Manchester and Leeds) ahead of a more extensive tour in support of their ‘Medicine’ EP, released in May, Man of Moon are still in the position of a band building a live following. But if they’re disappointed by the size of the crowd, they don’t show it, and the duo put on a proper show.

The set starts with a Suicide throb before exploding into thunderous krautrock at 100 decibels. Between songs, they’re pretty unassuming, but the duo have seemingly grown in confidence and sonic stature as they build some heavy psychedelic grooves – think Black Angels on speed –over the course of their 45-minute set.

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Man of Moon

Mikey Reid has an unusual drumming style: sitting with his stool raised high over his minimal drum kit – a combination of acoustic drums with a huge splash cymbal and an electronic pad set – he’s tight and plays with an attention to nuance, adding a strong dynamic to the songs. Meanwhile, Chris Bainbridge’s guitar style is geared toward a layered, textural sound that really defines Man of Moon.

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Man of Moon

Tonight’s outing reaffirms that they’re a quality act with an evolving repertoire. They’ve also clearly got the grit, the determination and the professionalism to build a substantial cult following. And when they do, I probably will say ‘I told you so’.