BY JEFF BETTGER
I want to share one of my favorite musical experiences with you.
I saw a show in 1997 that I supposed was a part of the last tour that the band SWANS would ever have. The tour was called “SWANS are Dead.” They released a compilation of tracks recorded from that tour with the same title. I was convinced that I had just witnessed an experience that would never happen again. I was so thankful I was able to attend that concert and have since never heard anything like it until now.
It was the most sonically brutal experience I have ever encountered. The suffocating, deafening tone of reverberating guitars swirled in a minor key with a thickness of dissonance that I never thought possible for musical instruments to create in the hands of human beings. The emotional drain throughout the entire concert felt as if all the weight of the heavens was pushing down. It sounded as if a multitude of demons had opened their lungs and burst the flood gates of hell upon an unsuspecting earth with the vehement, caustic tone of strained vocal chords disoriented from swallowing broken glass.
Then they would change the chords. Minor turned into major and lifted your soul in ascension as if God Himself was cradling you into some kind existential bliss. They would take loud painful discordance and within a few minutes turn it upside down into angelic ethereal atmospheric worship of the eternal.
The two singer–songwriters, Michael Gira and Jarboe, decided to end the band after they broke up from their intense relationship. The emotional complexities of their musical arrangements seem due to the fact that they were previously lovers.
The band reunited without Jarboe in 2010, and released an album entitled “My Father will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.” I was skeptical that they would bring the intensity that they had 13 years earlier. I was afraid that my memory of SWANS would be ruined, so I skipped the live show and purchased the album.
Boy, was I wrong. I thought that the SWANS reunion would be just another band remembering it's former glory days. I was wrong. This was a rebirth. They released another album in 2012 called “The Seer,” and I got to witness this onslaught of terror in Chicago on “The Seer” tour. It was everything that I had witnessed in 1997 and more. The SWANS reunion was a new beginning that continued where they had left off and moved into a space of sonic madness.
A friend who knew my love and appreciation for the band the SWANS sent me a link to a live album from the tour for “My Father will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.” This show is the best representation of the live performances that I’ve described here and in the post before.
Check it out and let me know what you think.