Swans at the Roxy, January 11, 1997

LA Weekly

January 17-23, 1997

This was purported to be the last LA show by New York noise sophisticates Swans. Openers Windsor for the Derby provided a subdued guitar ripple that set the tone for the evening's etherea.

Amid swarms of cocktail chatter, Roy Orbison's "Crying" was slowly transformed into an industrial hum that grew louder and louder, while pulsating red lights made one feet locked inside a secret airplane hangar, spying on a UFO and its occupants as they readied themselves for the journey home. As the buzz slowly increased in volume, shards of bass, guitar and synthesized piano wafted in and out, catching the crowd unaware until the middle of the second song, "Low Life Form," when all the showbiz conversation halted. Soon, M. Gira's sweat had soaked his shirt, and he appeared pasty and gaunt. "Tragically, we're playing mostly new songs tonight," he lamented, as the velvet clad throngs tried to imagine Swans playing any other way.

Live, Swans seem like ambassadors from some foreign universe. Something about their lush but excruciating mire is just seductive. M. Gira was barefoot and mystical, and his guitars were effects less. The very precise drumming like little noise stalactites held Swans' comatose exuberance in check. "My Birth" rolled over the audience like liquid silver waves on a metallic shore. Jarboe, Swans' satanic chanteuse, rose from her organ for three songs. She shares M. Gira's emaciated, angular grayness, but she's prone to maniacal smiles. Only an electric drone accompanied her voice on "Blood on Your Hands," "Hypogirl" and a retooled "I Crawled" sounded like the encroachment of desert looks. Jarboe returned to her organ while the band plodded through "I Am the Sun" and "Blood Promise," carefully avoiding land mines.

Droning, not waving, Swans left the stage. Ninety minutes seemed far too brief for these aliens to tell us everything. We have their records the products of a higher intelligence and the lowest self esteem. It must have been an experiment, their last 15 years. You achieve perfection, and then you cease to be.

Skylaire Alfvegren

The League of Western Fortean Intermediatists

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