REVIEW: Swans – Mandela Hall, Belfast

SwansreviewAfter forming almost thirty years ago, Swans have built quite a reputation for themselves as being one of the loudest and heaviest bands to see live.

I had heard that, unlike many bands who reform, their live shows were far from being a nostalgic journey down memory lane and for Belfast fans looking forward to an ear-drum thrashing this weekend at Mandela Hall, they did not disappoint.

Opening for the band was Korean composer Okkyung Lee, who mesmerised the crowd as she abused her cello in the most aggressive, yet captivating way possible. Parts of her set reminded me of the music from The Shining, which was very apt for the night ahead, most of which proved to be like a horror movie – heart-pounding and almost frightening, yet impossible to ignore.

Swans show was a well-planned out and perfectly orchestrated, yet chaotic performance from the very beginning. It started out with percussionist Thor Harris incessantly beating his gong, sending the crowd into a hypnotic trance. The rest of the band came out one by one, and then finally Michael Gira took to the stage, beginning a night of immense loudness which shook Mandela to its core. Throughout the evening, it was very obvious that Gira carefully conducted the entire experience, raising his hand slightly or giving a certain look to each member of the band, letting them know exactly what he wanted. He really seems like someone you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of, and at one point during the night actually reprimanded a rowdy crowd member who was recording the gig on his phone, telling him “I’m trying to create something for now, not for YouTube”. The show sounded spectacular and faultless throughout, with heavy bass and thunderous guitar merging seamlessly with distorted percussion and Gira’s Lizard King-esque crooning and chanting. I loved the fact that there was so much going on onstage, and at one point Thor was swigging wine in between playing his trombone and gong.

For devoted Swans fans, Sunday night was definitely one to remember. It’s hard to imagine Mandela has ever been exposed to so many decibels before, and as I write this, my ear drums are still ringing. Much like a horror film, you have to let yourself be drawn in and taken on a journey by the band, which leaves you feeling unsettled, but mystified and yearning for more. Gira stayed behind after the show and seemed more than happy to sign t-shirts and records for fans. I actually met him, and found him very calm and charming, which was a vast contrast from what we had just experienced onstage. It was an amazing night, but hopefully next time I’ll remember to wear my earplugs. Meghan Gilleece, GiggingNI.com