It’s over 40 years since Michael Gira’s Swans burst onto the scene. Actually, more like oozed onto the scene, a bit like that monster in Dr Who who seeped under your door, Now, 16 albums later, Gira returns to Manchester, the location for many a triumphant Swans gig, with his revolving entourage of musicians in tow. 2023’s line up sees Gira augmented by Swans both old and new.
Like Marmite, Swans are definitely an acquired taste. Tonight the crowd are assembled early, well before doors open, presumably to grab the best vantage point, with which to maximise the experience. Swans gigs are reknowned for being ear splittingly loud and true to form, the opening track builds to a numbing crescendo, which sees Gira spend most of the time strumming an open chord on his acoustic guitar, whilst urging the band on with his spare limb, directing like a concert conductor. In all this clocks in at over 10 minutes, but there’s no banter, no “hi Manchester, how are you?” Nope it’s straight into the Hanging Man from 2019 LP Leaving Meaning, for another 10 minutes plus of aural suffocation and unless my ears are deceiving me, an upturn in volume!
The music is borderline hypnotic and some audience members seem to be entering an almost trance like state. The set continues in much the same vein. With tracks this long, it’s no surprise that the complete set is only 7 songs long. I’m prepared to shoot the person who shoots for an encore at the end, but thankfully none is forthcoming. For the last half of the gargantuan set I venture downstairs, where the sound actually sounds less muddy and distorted than my seated experience in the balcony.
Like a distant cousin’s funeral, I’m glad I went but I don’t suppose I would have been missed if I hadn’t.
Safe to say, like The Residents before them, Swans remain a mystery to me, but at least I tried.