With a quick scan of the large audience at The Forum, it was hard to pin point the exact subgroup of person that went to this gig – it would appear that Swans’ hard-to-label, genre-hopping style of music drew an audience that could be described in much the same way. People of all ages, all styles, and all hair colours filled the venue to the brim to see Swans play their first ever show in Melbourne. Despite the noticeable differences between the groups in the audience, they all had a smile on their face in common when Michael Gira and his freak show strode onto the stage.
From the moment they started playing you couldn’t help but be sucked into their gothic wonderland of glorious noise. And a wonderland it was. Playing shirtless, the percussionist (fittingly named Thor) looked like a centaur, or some other sort of mythical creature. It was hard to take your eyes off him as he stood on stage coaxing you into the wardrobe. This wonderland was no Narnia though. It was full of jagged edges, hooded figures and sounds that shouldn’t be heard by the faint of heart. The dark, moody guitars screeched and jarred like two possums in combat, while the heavy drums drove the music with a meticulous energy.
Although being somewhat of a centrepiece in instrumental areas of the set, Thor the centaur didn’t detract attention from Gira when he started singing. The thirteen-year break was no doubt beneficial to keeping his connection with the music, his now slightly more matured vocals displaying a stunning level of emotion as they spluttered their way through the set.
Mainly playing songs from new album My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky as well as some other new songs that are yet to be released, the older fans in attendance may have been a little disappointed. A few oldies were played for their benefit though, unfortunately only one being from seminal album Children of God. ‘Sex, God, Sex’ was the selection from this album. The slow and seductive guitar swayed between E and A, and Gira’s brooding vocals echoed throughout the room, gradually getting louder and louder until he reached the apex of the song and with great pain belted out “praise the lord, praise god!”
The Forum was the perfect setting for this song, as it played out like a soundtrack to the end of the world. Looking up at the artificial sky, it felt as though it would open up and engulf us at any given moment, as the demigods on stage delivered their unforgiving wrath in large, spellbinding blows. As the song flickered to an end, a ubiquitous feeling of enchantment was felt throughout the audience, and it was obvious that it was one of the highlights of the night to all in attendance.
Other highlights of the night were ‘I Crawled’ and ‘Eden Prison’. ‘I Crawled’ is a song that really gets under your skin. It truly does creep and crawl along in a manner that almost makes you feel uncomfortable, in a really good sort of way, if you can imagine. The eastern sounding guitars in ‘Eden Prison’ suited Gira’s voice tremendously well and brought an almost cinematic feel to the end of the set.
The magic did begin to wear off a bit towards the end of the set despite that one highlight though. Being two hours, and sounding much the same throughout, it was perhaps a bit overlong, and as Gira sang the words “we are free”, those tiring of the set were feeling anything but free in the crowded venue. That said, the majority of the audience seemed to think otherwise, and although a number of people did leave before the encore, there was still a large slab of people chanting for more after the band left the stage.
They came back with ‘Little Mouth’, which Gira gives up his usual talking voice and actually kind of sings in. It’s more chilled out than the rest of the set, a good way to bring people down from the intense state of anxiety the rest of the set no doubt left them in. As the song drew to end, a mutual feeling of warmth was shared throughout the audience. Not being a band likely to come back any time soon, you’d be lucky to have seen this show, and the punters in attendance clearly knew it.
– Ella Jackson