by Caroline Harrison
Swans @ MHOW, 2/6/2013
New York legends Swans played the first of two sold out shows at Music Hall of Williamsburg last night (2/6), supported by singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler. The shows replaced the ones that Hurricane Sandy so rudely postponed last October.
Nadler's melancholy set was a nice counterpoint to the Swans set to come. She played solo, finger-picking an acoustic guitar to accompany her airy soprano voice. Classifying Nadler as folk doesn't quite capture the depth and breadth of her influences. Her vocals sit somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Shara Worden. Her performance was subtle, almost economical, and it was a nice reminder that much of Swans' newer material does draw on folk influences, even if Swans' music comes in a more aggressive package.
There's something uniquely New York about Swans. They have the grit and fear of 1980s New York baked into their sound. Though their sound has morphed pretty widely over their long and complicated history, Swans retains the quintessential elements. Gira sneers and snarls his way through savage and abusive vocal patterns. He's equal parts front man and conductor, prone to now infamous tantrums when the band isn't meeting his expectations, but the Gira I saw last night was in a downright genial mood. He threw a towel at percussionist Thor Harris to get his attention, but that was the closest Gira came to cussing out anyone on stage.
The band played for just over two hours, incorporating a fair amount of new, unreleased material into their set. They were chest-crushingly loud, and I could feel waves of sound trying to use my abdominal cavity as an echo chamber. A little after midnight, when it seemed like the band could keep going for at least another half hour, Swans finished playing. Gira thanked the audience, and announced, "We are finished for the night. We appreciate your attention."
Swans play again tonight, this time supported by Devendra Banhart, the original opener for the October show. Bring earplugs.