When Swans split in 1996, it was supposed to be the finale, with bandleader and single constant member Michael Gira moving on to concentrate on his other project, Angels of Light. Gira reconvened the band, however, in 2010, with a whole new lineup that has since become one of the longest-running in the band’s history. In that time, Swans have released four albums, from 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky to this year’s The Glowing Man. Gira had stated before recording even started that The Glowing Man would be the last album with this particular line-up, after which Swans will mutate again to become something new. But before doing that, the band is embarking on one last massive worldwide tour, and Washington, DC fans were fortunate to get a show at the 9:30 Club last week.
Swans have always been about extremities – extreme topics (this is a band that once titled a live album Public Castration is a Good Idea), extreme volume, extreme song length – and this performance was no exception. It was loud, and glorious in its volume. Anyone who forgot their earplugs was probably hurting by the end of the night!
Over the course of a nearly two and a half hour set, the band played only six songs. Swans have never been a band drawn to the two and a half minute pop song, and this incarnation in particular seems partial to long, drawn-out post-rock explorations. The Glowing Man in particular seems to focus on droning, and therefore much of the band’s set did has well. The band chose not to look very far backward this time around, sticking to songs from the four most recent albums. The highlight of the set was the title track to The Glowing Man, a 28-minute long epic piece that is bound to go down as one of this lineup’s greatest achievements.
What’s next for Swans? Even Gira himself claims not to know yet. One thing is certain, though – if you get a chance to catch this line-up one last time on this tour before it goes away, you should certainly take it.
Avant-garde cellist Okkyung Lee opened the set, turning in a mesmerizing performance despite some technical issues.