What is there left to say about Swans that has not already been said? Since reforming in 2010 the group - led by the ever enigmatic Michael Gira - has toured the world reigniting the passions of their devoted fan base, garnering teary-eyed reviews and conquering all before them. Their peerless brand of noise-rock is now universally recognised as among the most significant to have emerged from 1980s No Wave scene out of New York, while this time around the band have also been afforded the popular support which eluded them during their initial run.

Returning to the Koko in London for the second time in five months, the venue is packed once again this evening. Swans perform as part of the first instalment of the Mouth To Mouth Festival, curated by Gira, which is billed as an annual series of events concentrating on urgent performance-orientated music, irrespective of genre. Also on the bill are a slightly subdued Xiu Xiu, the towering noise of Ben Frost and what is pithily described as Mercury Rev’s Cinematic Silent Sound Tettix Wave Ensemble, which sees members of the band score a film entitled 'The Red Balloon' with waves of crashing psychedelic electronics. All are admirable, but it is obvious who the crowd has come to see as an awed hush awaits the arrival of Gira and the most recent incarnation of the band.

Gira has repeatedly stated this is not a reunion tour, and in many respects this is accurate. Only Norman Westberg on guitar has any serious long-term relationship with the band, with the rest, excluding Phil Puleo, who played drums with the group in the 1990s, being invited to join only in 2010. That said, this group of musicians has now been on the road together on-and-off for nearly two years, and it is apparent they have formed a formidable bond. While in November a weight of expectation hung over the band, this evening they seemed relaxed, perfectly in tune with that is expected of them and ever so able to deliver.

Opening once again with ‘To Be Kind’, which sees Gira chanting “millions of stars in your eyes” manta style, Swans start strong and never look back. Acting as a conductor at the centre of the stage, he wills his hired guns to go beyond what they previously thought possible, allowing vast crescendos of noise to develop before bidding his players to build still further, further, further.

The set is largely drawn from recent album 'The Seer', and this is appropriate given that this is a new incarnation of the band. It is a looser band, almost playful is that is possible considering the awesome racket they are creating, with smiles flashed back and forth as though the band have finally arrived, being recognised for what they are after three decades of perseverance.

One notable exception is 'Coward', from 1986 album Holy Money. A brutal assault, the songs basic lyrics - “I’m a coward”, “Put your knife in me”, “I love you” - are elevated to a religious status, with the audience drawn into a macabre revelry. Intoxicating stuff. Momentum is key to the Swans live set, with the remains of the previous piece being used as foundation stones for the next.

As the band hurtles towards closer 'The Apostate', again from The Seer, the intensity is ratcheted up to almost unbearable levels, and it is here Swans find their true home. Physically the sound is intimidating, pulsing through the room, but it also creates a cathartic space, not unlike a hallucination, bordering on an out of body experience. It has to be heard to be believed.


The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Neil Bailey.











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