Michael Gira – Boiler Shop Newcastle – 20th February 2018
Swans are one of the finest bands I’ve ever seen and I was ecstatic at the prospect of hearing the material as a solo act, over the moon that such an act should even contemplate playing Newcastle. Gira is playing only two shows in the UK, London and surprisingly Newcastle. We rarely get treats such as this. I feel honoured to be able to witness this show.
Okkyung Lee is the guest opening act on both shows. I was unsure what to expect from her solo cello performance but was confident it would be something challenging to fit the Swans universe. Her performance was overwhelming and confusing in equal portions.
Her super fast hummingbird finger technique is mesmerising to watch. The tones extracted from the instrument are remarkable. I’m not sure I like it, but equally, I can’t help but be impressed. Those hummingbirds change from a pleasant flight into an anxiety-filled stabbing swarm in the blink of an eye. All a bit too much for me.
But at what point does making a beautiful sound become too much? 15 mins seemed to be the point where I lost interest. That said Okkyung left the stage to thunderous applause, the audience captivated by the drone or politely enduring? I’m not too sure. I remain impressed and yet stubbornly baffled. Gira later comments that she “Strangled those sounds out of that instrument”. Perfect summation and I finally get it.
More applause greets Michael Gira as he enters the stage. The audience is seated tonight and it feels strangely subdued. Gira providing the ultimate control and attention of the audience. Seeming like a calm but venomous blues man preacher, he is captivating.
Tonight Gira is performing acoustically, albeit highly amplified acoustics. The volume is essential and ensures they stark bare performance is heard above all, even a few streets away!
The songs are magnificent in their stripped back form. Launching into Jim, the slow paced and dramatic phrasing sucks you in, whilst still allowing you to imagine the other sounds that are not present. ‘Ride your mechanical beast to heaven’ is a line I truly adore. That is one thing I notice tonight, the lyrics have more space to tell their tale.
Gira used the opportunity to test out some new material. Gira promises “Several new songs, only begun to be performed on this tour. Leading to a Swans record sometime next year. I thought I’d play it. Why the fuck not!”
Oxygen works surprisingly well as a solo performance. Proving that he is one of the all-time greats. That voice is remarkable. Tar-like strength cuts through the venue like a knife. The evening was an amazing experience.
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