“The loudest band on earth”, we’re told. It could have been anything because the utterances from the punter making vague word-shaped faces as we leave the venue are nothing but images at this point. Not quite deafened, not entirely sure my hearing will ever return. Swans are, without doubt, the loudest assault you’ll ever pay for. Their return to making music and playing it at ear-splitting volume is a welcome one, but a painful one.
Having released To Be Kind earlier this year the New York giants have made experimental music, on and off, for 32 years; their life span now includes 13 albums and nearly as many band members as The Fall. Their leader Michael Gira, like Mark E. Smith, is the one constant and his presence is felt every bit as dominantly by the band as it is the audience. “Can we turn the house lights up a little? A little more? More? What are you doing, that’s too much. Perfect”. Off he goes to remedy varying stage issues and moving artifacts to wherever he wants – generally being the boss. Opening with a 25 minute version of ‘Frankie M’ and an unmerciful, relentlessly loud version of ‘A Little God in my Pocket’, there is no doubt that the repetitive, experimental drone-like effect of their playing is mesmeric. Despite the pain (honestly, it was that fucking loud) there is very little movement from the crowd as Gira sways in and out of position but rather than apathy, it’s possibly just a case of taking it all in. Some gigs, lest we forget, are like this; performance over spectacle. “Now, can we turn the stage lights into something that doesn’t feel like we’re in a fucking office? Maybe some red in there?”. Now that Gira and co are happy, the crowd are treated to ‘Just A Little Boy’ and ‘Black Hole Man’.
It’s a this point that State noticed that 90% of the crowd are wearing ear-plugs and that they’re available at the bar. A rookie mistake, those first 50 mins or so are gone and so too is the majority of the hearing in both ears. As the sound is now muted, without every being dulled, the rest of the gig is actually a pleasure to witness. The remaining audience members who haven’t bothered with plugs are still reveling in the murky ebb and flow of the rhythms but tend to grab their ears at different stages as if preventing their heads from leaking. As we all leave the venue there are a couple of people shouting, or at least appearing to shout, over the loud ringing from the speakers. As the night passes, and the open-mic mime performances going on in the next room turns out to be poetry, people realise that the ringing is internal and that the speakers have long since gone.