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In concert: Swans at Black Cat

swansMichael Gira and Swans played a brutalizing show on Wednesday. (All photos by Josh Sisk/FTWP)

By Aaron Leitko

A Swans concert is not a democracy.

During its Wednesday night performance at the Black Cat, the New York City-based sextet --relaunched after a 13-year hiatus -- tried to wrest control of the audience's senses. Swans wanted the air-conditioning off, the house lights on, and the volume maxed-out. Song requests were not taken. Even the line for the merchandise table was straight and orderly with a sign decreeing which credit cards were acceptable. If noise-rock has a political hierarchy, Swans would be the generalissimo.

It's a reputation the band worked hard to generate. Founded by singer Michael Gira in 1982, Swans set a new precedent for minimalism and brutality--song after song of abrasive guitars and lurching rhythms, with Gira's howling Old Testament-style fire and brimstone delivery. In 1997, Gira grew weary of the group's frowny-faced reputation and pulled the plug.

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Earlier this year, he changed his mind and announced he would resurrect the band, albeit with a new line-up split between original members and newbies. In part, he may have been financially motivated -- Wednesday's show drew a larger crowd than a typical performance by Gira's solo project, Angels of Light. But the singer has also confessed a desire to return the noisy catharsis that characterized Swans best work.

In this regard, Swans delivered. The group's new album, "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to The Sky," is a synthesis of the band's old-time drudgery and the dark Americana that Gira has been pursuing since. In concert, the band stuck to unflinching intensity. For more than an hour Swans performed at jet-engine volume, drawing out songs from the most savage reaches of its back catalog, like "Your Property" from 1984's "Cop." "You deform me/ you own me/I worship your authority," bellowed Gira. He stalked the stage, slapped himself in the face, and clutched tightly to an electric guitar.

But Gira has a tender side, too. Each CD that Swans sell on tour comes autographed by the singer at no extra charge. It's personal touch from Gira, available to all of his fans -- washed or unwashed, hip or unhip, on credit or debit.

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By Aaron Leitko  | September 30, 2010; 1:53 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags:  Swans  
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