The headlines will scream ‘New Swans album set for August release’, as Michael Gira casually informed his gathered faithful halfway through his solo performance at Café Oto in north-east London. This is big news in some quarters; since their return in 2010 with the devastating 'My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky' album the industrial-rock outfit have resolutely retaken their place at the top table, recapturing some of the majestic beauty of their 1980's heyday.

But, strangely, the revelation seems secondary to what is on offer tonight. The real news is the quiet grandeur of Gira himself. As the frontman for Swans he is an awesome spectacle, a terrifying presence screaming out Old Testament tales of lust, envy and death. All that is present tonight on this much smaller stage, but the sheer intensity of his performance – with just an acoustic guitar – is almost overwhelming in itself. Gira is easily the equal of Nick Cave, Lou Reed or David Byrne and just shy of the higher echelons occupied by Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen – so what an honour to see him perform in front of under two hundred rapt fans this evening.

Opening with 'Jim' from 'My Father Will Guide Me…', the pleasantly oppressive weight of Gira’s performance is immediately apparent. Few men can be so captivating with just a dog-eared, blood soaked, scrapbook of wised stories, and a six string guitar. But Gira is almost stately in his delivery, demanding nothing but total submission from his audience. Swans fans glance knowingly to each other across the room, but even a total outsider stumbling into the room couldn’t fail to recognise the stoic dignity of the occasion. If there were musicians playing in the bars of the novels of Cormac McCarthy, they would sound a hell of a lot like Gira.

'Eden Walls' shakes the crowd, while 'Oxygen' is also well received. The Angels of Light (formed by Gira in the 2000s during the initial demise of Swans) tune 'My Brother's Man' provides a moment of light relief towards the end, as Gira initially plays the track in a faux-folk style during a minor tuning mishap, before reinvesting it with his usual intensity. A brief encore brings the crowd 'God Damn the Sun' (as close as Swans have to an out-and-out hit), before the close. On stage for ninety minutes, Gira rarely lets the intensity slip; a powerful performer indeed.

Praise is also due for Café Oto, which consistently offers one of the most innovative, informed and inspiring programmes on offer anywhere in the UK. Gira is this evening performing as part of the Counterflows festival, which takes in three cities – London, Glasgow and Berlin. Also taking the stage during the event are Korean acid-folk pioneer Kim Doo Soo and Japanese singer Kazuki Tomokawa – both giants in their respective fields. Nowhere else in London can consistently match the sheer eye opening wonder of Café Oto.

Related Links:

Commenting On: Cafe Oto, London, 7/4/2012 - M. Gira

ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment

First Previous Next Last