Thursday, April 14, 2011
Swans in Tel Aviv
After a short (and pleasant to the ear) warm up by Bela Tarr, (not the movie director, it’s a good looking chick with two guitars) Swans (lap steel) guitarist dressed in a fine suit walked through the stage, fed a signal to the amplifier and elegantly went away. A forty minutes intro has its positive sides of course, however the feeling was that there was a part of the crowd which wasn't stoned enough to really enjoy it and get the subtle message. One can surely argue that Swans had always been more into creating sounds and noises rather than singing songs, and sound-making was indeed the general style of the show. A lot of new material (my father will guide me up the rope round his neck) sounding heavier, louder and slower than on the record. Some mid-period material sounding heavier, louder and slower; and almost no old stuff.
There are two types of hardcore fans to any band – those nostalgically worshiping the old material and always hating the latest record, and those who will forgive their band anything and keep admiring no matters what. Some of the first kind must’ve held themselves for quite a while, but couldn't take it anymore towards the end of the show. A cry from the crowd went “This show is shit, play some of the old stuff, play 86, Money”. Which was answered by Gira “I’m not you’re fucking clown, I’m sorry. We just do what we do” Well, no need to apologize, really. However, “We just do what we do” was a precise description: Creating a flux of slow rhythmic sound with occasional slips back to song structure is what the show was about. Don’t get me wrong, it was still music that I enjoyed, perhaps mostly because I had no expectations whatsoever. Very, very loud as well - the sound basically surrounded one’s brain and tried gently to chew it up… You can surely enjoy this kind of a show. The club wasn’t too crowded, about 500-600 people standing at ease even near the stage – not something you see happening a lot around Tel Aviv. The long intro was not a surprise as well, when Swans were younger, they pulled out meaner shit. Gira occasionally shouted “Shalom
” and “Toda Raba”. No hard feeling, I guess, for his brief stay in one of our fine jails in the seventies. Israel
It’s important to realize, I think, that those are not the same people as 20 years ago – literally and metaphorically. The band presented a very interesting approach to music in its early days, different than most stuff around back then. It has been active for a decade and a half, had more then 10 years of cessation, during which the members participated in different projects. The new album is unlike the old ones, well, Swans had at least three noticeably different musical periods prior to disbanding in '97. And we are in 2011. For a band back from the dead, their current music and performance is interesting and energetic enough to justify the resurrection.
Now, what are they supposed to play? You can’t have a gig like in 86, unless you’re in 86 and about twenty years old. Even if the band plays old stuff, it’s played now by people approaching 60, after some kind of musical evolution or at least change. It can’t be something radically new as well, guys that age don’t really innovate the world of art. So what did we get? Like any deserving veteran, Swans delivered a tuned up, dynamic show of a very good quality, slightly reflexive, but somehow fresh at least in terms of Swans material. A two hours gig with an encore (and a 40 minutes intro) was satisfying enough for me. The constant smell of weed suggested that some people not stoned enough in the beginning of the show might have received the subtle messages in the music towards its end, as for me, I had my dose fun, surely worth the 160 shekel ticket. The only thing I can complain about is the lack of Jarboe.
I must say I prefer this to something like Faith NO More doing a tour to play their fans the same old songs they heard on MTV as teenagers. The show was good enough for me to purchase the album afterward, especially since it was sold directly by the band. I passed on the T shirt with the dollar sign, though…