Posts Tagged ‘Live Review’

Christopher Nosnibor

Last time I saw Ming City Rockers, supporting Arrows of Love in Leeds, I wasn’t hugely impressed, and thought that if they put as much effort into the songs as into looking like rock clichés, they might get somewhere. I’m here, in fact, for grungy Australian duo Mannequin Death squad, whose debut EP was one of last year’s highlights. Anyone who caught them on the supporting tour over here, thanks to their Hull-based label, would have witnessed a treat.

Back in the UK once more, they’re gracing York with their presence on the night before dropping their first new material since the Eat, Hate, Regurgitate EP in the form of the track ‘Blue’.

Warming things up are local lads Naked Six. At one time a three-piece, they’re now reduced to a two-piece. But rather than diminishing their power, the guitar / drum combo have focused and concentrated their energy, and with the guitar signal split across two amps, there’s a real depth and solidity to their sound. And it helps that the amps are cranked up loud. It’s the best way to listen to their swaggering, ballsy, hard-edged blues rock. Seb Byford not only has a classic blues rock voice that also works well when they move into grungier territory later in the set, but he’s got a stomp that’s half Angus Young, half frenzied madman as she grinds the riffs into the stage with his heel. It’s a cracking performance.

Naked Six

Naked Six

Mannequin Death Squad certainly don’t disappoint, and it’s telling that the instrument-swapping pair have evolved a set with enough new material to be able to drop killer tracks like ‘KYMS’ from their debut EP without the set being remotely lacking.

The eight-song set, which kicks off with ‘Sick’ from the aforementioned EP boasts almost 50% new and unreleased material. For a band who are yet to really break the market, it’s a bold move, but with a debut album in the offing and so many ace tunes, it means they’re able to arrange the set based not on simply what they’ve got, but to sequence it from a selection that gives the set shape and a dynamic beyond the individual tracks. It’s clear they’ve spent time out and about, on the road, refining their sound, and they benefit from the venue’s appropriate volume to make for an attacking sound.

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Mannequin Death Squad

‘Nightmare’ marks a change of pace and style, bringing a darker hue and a bass-led dirginess to break up the succession of driving grunge tunes with killer hooks which define the band’s sound.

Swapping instruments at the set’s mid-point and again near the end (much to the appreciation of those who thought they were about to finish), they keep themselves and the crowd on their toes, and they work bloody hard to power through a full-throttle set often coming on like Live Through This era Hole, with the added punch of a spiky post-punk edge. They’re fucking awesome.

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Mannequin Death Squad

With a surly-looking female guitarist, a trashy aesthetic, and a slew of uptempo punk tunes, what’s not to like about Ming City Rockers? Regrettably, and despite the consensus of the aged punks going nuts down the front, they still suck. The lack of imagination is the issue. It’s bog-standard spirit of ‘77 4/4 punk, and like many of the bands of the era, at its heart it’s just pub rock played fast with the amps cranked up. The songs are churned out with an abundance of posturing and posing but without any real substance, or tunes, and the sameness gets tedious very quickly.

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Ming City Rockers

They introduce one song as being about playing a gig in Lowestoft where a man chased the singer and ‘tried to pin me down and fuck me, I mean proper fuck me!’ but the lyrics are articulated as something along the lines of ‘wahwahwahwahyaggch’. It’s crass, lowest-common denominator stuff, and much of what happens on stage feels extremely contrived: the walking off stage into the crowd, knocking over cymbals on the way by way of a finale is pretty much emblematic.

Filing out, a few punters could be overheard commenting that Mannequin Death Squad were the best band of the night, and those punters would be right.

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Christopher Nosnibor

It’s Saturday night on the August bank holiday weekend. The students are on holiday, and it’s Leeds Festival weekend. On the face of it, it seems like madness to put a gig on in a tiny underground venue in the city centre, but in fact, it makes a lot of sense. Not only are the big festivals insanely expensive, but because commercial concerns are inevitably a priority these days, they represent an ever-narrowing musical choice. Festivals have become tediously safe, with corporate sponsorship and the same obvious, established acts playing the headline slots at every festival year on year. But it’s at gigs like this that future festival features cut their teeth. I’d take four little bands, up close and personal, at a free entry show, over the entirety of Reading and Leeds any day.

The first band up, who I assume are The Blewes (since they’re mentioned on the poster if not the event page, and they don’t say) deliver a competent set of alternative rock tunes, foraying into light funk rock mode around halfway through the set. The singer / guitarist’s wearing cherry-red 12-hole DM’s, but his butch credentials are covered by the fact he’s got his shirt, off and relentless calls of ‘show us your tiger’ from the back to the room (presumably the band’s mates) sees the bassist get his moobs out too. Unremarkable but entertaining enough, they’re more than adequate bill-proppers.

The Claxbys proved rather less entertaining. The bassist may have a Big Muff in his rack, but it doesn’t do anything to elevate the three-piece’s pedestrian pub rock. It’s only on the last song when the Scunthorpe trio kick out some beefy blues rock that things get interesting, but it’s rather too little, too late.

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The Claxbys

It turns out that the cocky kid who engaged me in conversation earlier, with seemingly good intentions, is the nineteen-year-old singer with The Bohos. It’s a crap name, but the Liverpool quartet blend psychedelic and 60s rock elements into neat packages delivered with energy. They look the part, too, and emanate a confidence befitting of a band who’ve got some big gigs including a support slot with White Lies under their belt. A critical stance would be that there’s little to differentiate them from a great many other bands, but there’s no question that they’re solid. The final song of the set, ‘I’m a Hero’ comes on like Oasis wrestling with The Cooper Temple Clause, and is the work of a band with enough assurance – or ego – to go places.

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The Bohos

Weekend Recovery are a band with definite star quality, and in singer Lauren Forster, they have a compelling focal point. She does a good line I that ‘grrrrghhh’ throat thing. She plays guitar. She has a natiral charisma. And while she may have devoted more time to practising her eye movements than her fretwork, as a unit, they’re musically tight throughout. The fact the band are playing with a stand-in bassist in the form of Joe Scotcher makes this even more impressive.

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Weekend Recovery

Yes, they’re a rock band with a keen pop sensibility, and since I first caught them in February, on the release of ‘Don’t Try and Stop Me’, they’ve honed their sound and grown in confidence through touring. Debus single ‘Focus’ is dropped early in a well-paced set, and latest single, ‘New Tattoo’, lifted from their ‘Rumours’ EP and their darkest, broodingest moment to date – showcases a capacity to combine emotional intensity with anthemic tunage. And despite the lateness of the hour (they don’t start till 11pm), they manage to hold the attention and even get some people moving down the front. They wrap up the night with a stomping rendition of ‘Don’t Try and Stop Me’, and exit triumphant. So yeah, take that, Eminem.

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one of those lineups that has cult appeal written all over it. It’s also wall-to-wall quality. So while The Crescent may not be rammed – it was always going to be challenge to fill a 350-capacity venue in York on a Tuesday night in August with a lineup specialising in experimental and Kratuy workouts – those present are enthusiastic and know they’re in for a treat.

As I absorb Neuschlaufen’s immersive set, I’m increasingly aware of how much they sound – and even look like – so many of the improv-led experimental rock acts from mainland Europe I hear, courtesy of one Berlin-based PR in particular. These bands have substantial but ultimately underground and disparate cult followings, and release their albums on microlabels in batches of numbered editions of 300 or so, and perform in cool but nice venues around Germany and The Netherlands. Neuschlaufen are as good as any of them, and watching the trio manipulate sound – sometimes intuitively, sleekly, and sometimes by using electrical tape to pin keys on a synth down to sustain a note for ten minutes uninterrupted – is a real treat. An extended two-chord workout around the set’s mid-point – and the whole thing is magnificently and intuitively structured – is pinned together with piercing synth and clanging metallic guitar forging serpentine shapes Ash Sagar weaving a strolling six-string bassline. At times they mine a seam that brings together Bauhaus, PiL and The Fall, with shuddering bass grooves underpinning clanging, repetitive guitar-lines which are so angular as to cause flesh wounds.

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Neuschlaufen

It seems that every time I review Soma Crew, I comment on how they’re better with every outing. It’s not just my ears, or forgetfulness: it’s a fact. It’s been a long and slow ascent, but everything about them is totally cohesive, and tonight they spin their hypnotic brand of pulsating psychedelic rock in the tightest, most mesmerising style I’ve yet witnessed. The sound is rich, dense textured, and they’re brighter, clearer, groovier and trippier than ever.

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Soma Crew

Dave Keegan, standing in on bass, does a fantastic job: he holds the rhythm down perfectly with a heavy tone, pinned to Nick Barker’s insistent drumming, and the occasional nifty run for variety. The drumming is a defining feature, and I’m not the only one to note that Nick has, seemingly, one T-shirt and one rhythm. It’s this consistency and his complete lack of drumming ego which places him as one of my all-time drumming heroes.

On ‘Danger Zone’, they amalgamate Joy Division, The Back Angels, and The Doors to forge a unique sonic compound that encapsulates the brilliance of Soma Crew, and closer ‘Celluloid’ builds to a full-throttle sonic attack.

I can barely read a word of the notes I took during Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band’s set, and there aren’t many. I was too busy standing, absorbed, by the trio’s seamless and utterly compelling performance. With elements of psych and prog and 70s rock and out and out rhythm-driven jamming, and songs like ‘The First Ren Minutes of “Cocksucker Blues”’ to groove out on, there’s a lot to get lost in.

They have a simple setup: drums, bass, guitar, a single amp apiece. Nothing fancy. And yes, there are epic guitar solos comparable to Neil Young and Dinosaur Jr (one track even bears more than a passing resemblance to ‘Like a Hurricane’ in its chord sequence, and the emotion Forsyth wrings from those six strings is almost tear-jerking in places). But – and here’s the important point of note – nothing is overdone. However exemplary the musicianship – these guys can’t just play, thy can fucking play – at no point during the set do things ever descend into self-indulgence. This is a major, and extremely rare, feat. But not a bar passes without an ear to structure, and a remembrance of the importance of the audience’s entertainment.

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Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band

At no point to these guys go too far out on a limb, lose the crowd with tangents or indulgence. They’re well-rehearsed and tight as hell, but equally, they’re not so slick as to feel like they’re going through the motions, and this is when wigging out is at its best. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band define intuition, and play with an understated showmanship that’s something special.

Christopher Nosnibor

The soundcheck in progress while I’m ordering my first pint suggests we’re in for a loud night. Well, the Facebook event page did give fair warning. It’s a good job I’ve brought earplugs: the guy behind the bar points out that he’s already wearing his.

It’s 6:40pm on a Sunday evening in August. Outside, it’s still warm and the sun is out. Inside, it’s seriously dark, even with the curtains open and daylight filtering in. The THING – whose ‘Nightmares for Children’ streamed exclusively on Aural Aggravation back in April, begin their set with a dolorous bell chime and ominous, droning synths. The fear notes give way to a massage deluge of gut-grinding sludge: the guitar sounds like a bass, the bass sounds the bowels of Beelzebub after a phal. As they thunder through a continuous half-hour set, I’m reminded of Sleep, but the samples and synths which emerge through the murk gives an industrial edge to the doomy dronescape which reaches its climax by building through a single chord and floor to being battered at increasing speed before breaking into a tsunami of sludge.

The THING

The THING

Rotting Monarchs win band name of the night, no question. But starting fifteen minutes late in a tightly-packed schedule is not so cool, and they seem a bit disorganised and lacking in finesse. Still, their shouty, grindy punky racket brought together bits of NOFX with hints of Bomb Disneyland, which is no bad thing.

The place is suddenly a lot busier: Shrieking Violet have brought their mates. And they’re young. Many of them have short skirts and shiny new DMs. I’m here in my cracked £20 steel-toed Chelsea boots and beer-stained jacket. I’m not expecting much. Yes, they’re pure 80s, as if the singer’s hair and shirt didn’t give it away. The first track has hints of early Ultravox. But equally as the set progresses, I’m reminded of This Et Al minus the falsetto. They benefit from some hooky tunes propelled by some phenomenal, powerhouse percussion. ‘Avalanche’ is built around a steely, cyclical riff worthy of Killing Joke, and overall, it’s a strong set.

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Shrieking Violet

They may be playing as a three-piece sans bassist Dani, but SEEP AWAY still manage to bring eye-popping intensity and ear-shredding volume to proceedings. The eight-string guitar ensures the sound’s got density, and when paired with Dom Smith’s fierce drumming – his second set of the night having already pounded through The THING’s set – there’s plenty of sonic backdrop for Jay to do his manic thing. He’s a hell of a showman: that he’s wild and unpredictable and relentlessly in the crowd’s faces means you can’t take your eye off him for a second.

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SEEP AWAY

My opinions on novelty bands are no secret, and in the main, I think they suck. Petrol Hoers are a novelty bad so perverse, so fucked-up and plain wrong, that they’re an exception. Two blokes – two fat blokes – one wearing dungarees with no shirt, but a comedy horse’s head, the other wearing red Y-fronts, a fine mesh vest and a Mexican wrestling mask, stomp around hollering over backing tracks of blistering, uptempo industrial-strength bangin’ techno. In paper, it sounds both weird and shit in equal measure, but the audacity of these guys is as sheer as the pants guy’s top. The half dozen people who last the duration of their set absolutely fucking love it.

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Petrol Hoers

Little Death Machine take the stage ten minutes after their set was supposed to finish. Are they worth the wait? Absolutely. The London trio play in near-darkness, adding to the taut atmosphere which emanates from their technically precise and detailed compositions. On account of being scribbled in the dark (and not on account of the pints consumed over the course of the evening), my notes are a shade difficult to decipher, but in the moment I was taken by their rock / post-rock / hop-hop / soul rock hybrid. I also note by way of reference points Placebo, Oceansize, Nine Inch Nails, TesseracT, and some stuff I can’t make out from the scrawl.

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Little Death Machine

Did I really write ‘soul rock’? Yes, it appears so, and if that reads like an insult or criticism, it’s not: the moods that are deeply entwined within the songs, which are complex and progressive in their structures, are played with a sincerity and soulfulness that you feel. And that’s something no amount of technical ability or compositional dexterity can fake. It’s emotive, textured and resonant. And the perfect finish to an intense and varied night of live music.

Christopher Nosnibor

For those who aren’t fans of extreme music, it’s often hard to see the appeal. ‘How can you listen to that, let alone enjoy it?’ is a common line of questioning. Often, the response can be boiled down to a single word: catharsis.

The one thing that always strikes me about events like these is just how friendly the atmosphere is. The fans are friendly and many, like me, seem shy and reserved – until they completely go mental in the moshpit. And it’s in this context that extreme music makes perfect sense. I may be nursing bruised ribs today after my quest for photos landed me in the line of danger but never once did I feel in any way threatened: it’s all freaks, outcasts and oddballs together in a safe environment.

What had initially been booked as a standard date on the UK leg of Full of Hell’s tour metamorphasised into an eleven-band extravaganza when circumstances dictated a change of promoter. And there wasn’t a weak act on the bill, and the first couple, Cheap Surgery and Hoof Glove both stood at the punkier end of the musical spectrum than the screaming metal end. It’s not so much that it was welcome to be eased in gently as a positive thing to be treated to some musical range: it’s not as if either was light or poppy, with Cheap Surgery evoking the spirit of bands like Penetration. Hoof Glove, meanwhile, are a band of two halves with a metal rhythm section onstage and an electronic noise duo at a table in front of it. Processed-to-fuck female vocals add a different shade of intensity to a grainy noise reminiscent in places of the abrasive angst of Xmal Deutchschland.

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Cheap Surgery                                               Hoof Glove

A close-cropped screamer in a Crass T-shirt leads the full-throttle attack of Hex, and it was midway through their confrontational, fiery set that the slam-dancing commenced, hinting at the shape of things to come.

Led by the Throat may look like four ordinary guys, but they’re the first band to bring the full-on snarling metal assault to proceedings, and they bring it from the first bar of their tight, powerful set. As he paces the stage, the singer emanates a malevolent energy that’s as powerful as his patterned shirt is tasteless.

I can’t remember when or where I last saw Groak, but I remember them being good, and this evening’s performance confirms my memory is correct. Singer / guitarist Ben Southern is wearing a Rudimentary Peni t-shirt and the band’s sludgy, dirgy churn is propelled – slowly – by Steve Myles’ crushing percussion (how many bands is this guy in?). This is music dredged from the pits of the lower regions of hell, and pretty much as intense as it gets. Or so you’d think. But it’s only 6:30 in the evening by the time they leave the stage, and we’re not even halfway through the lineup.

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Groak

Masters of Powerviolence Lugubrious Children, who released a spit EP with Groak last year are up next, and they’re punishing too. The trio bring the power and the pace, and the result is carnage.

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Lugubrious Children

It only gets better, and more intense, with Gets Worse. Very much a beards and long shorts band, they’re bristling additional strings, with a massively overdriven five-string bass bringing the low-end that grinds below a pair of seven-string guitars. And all of those stings are downtuned and sludged to the max. A single power chord sustains for a full minute before the juggernaut chug slams in. This is a full-on, balls-out racket that draws together the slow trudge of Godflesh and the tearing frenzy of Napalm Death to devastating effect.

Famine are one of those bands who just get better with every outing. Having seen them grow from a snotty two-piece into a thunderous, ferocious gut-ripping threesome who are tighter and more ferocious with every show. My notes from their set are sparse and only semi-legible, but in front of a home crowd, they’re assured and received the violently rapturous reception they deserved.

I’d been recommended Unyielding Love by a friend whose opinion I very much respect, and they didn’t disappoint, taking the snarling gnarliness to a whole other level. The seven-string guitar and five-string bass congeal into a thick glutinous sonic slime with optimum low-end. It’s driven by rapid-fire drumming that’s hard enough to crack any skull, and overlaid with brain-shredding electronic noise. Their relentlessly savage set can be perhaps defined as the sound of a goat’s skull being dragged underfoot about the stage echoing amidst a heavy organ drone, before processed reverby vocals erupt into a howling vortex of noise. And tat all actually happened, in real life.

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Unyielding Love

I’ve no idea who I saw performing a ‘secret set’ in the Meatlocker (the venue’s second stage, still draped with original plastic curtains because it was absolutely fucking heaving and I’d had a few beers by this point but they were intense and loud and brutal. But Full of Hell… Fucking hell. I’d run into Dylan Walker shortly before the set and was struck by just what an affable guy he was. On stage, of course, it’s another story: blasting ear-bleeding electronics and brutal vocals with a violent energy amidst a raging tempest of the harshest grindcore around, live shows don’t come more intensely visceral than this. How much of the set was lifted from the latest long-player, Trumpeting Ecstasy, I couldn’t say: I was too busy avoiding flailing feet and flying bodies, and clearly, the pain in my left side tells me I failed somewhere during the mayhem. But this…. THIS is catharsis.

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Full of Hell

I stopped to have my photo taken with some random strangers on my way out: they liked my hat. I may have drunk too much beer, but in the main, I was hitting the cool night air elated and exhilarated, and on a different plane from the one I had arrived on.

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.

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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.