I really don’t know why I ignore my brother’s music recommendations anymore. He has yet to fail me and each time he tells me about something it usually is a type of music I would never have thought existed. When he told me he was going to skip both METZ and Savages in order to get a front row spot for Swans, I kind of did a double take but did not question. So I went off on my merry adventure of running all over the park and I actually missed the first ten minutes of Swans due to my escapade. In the end I was extremely sorry I did.
The absolute first thing I noticed when I rounded the food tents coming from the blue stage was that it was not nearly as loud as I thought it was going to be. But as I approached the stage and started winding my way through people, the pure magnitude and weight of the music started to become absorbed into my body. I got fairly close and just stood, awestruck at what was happening on the stage. There were six men on stage, Michael Gira obviously taking up most of the crowd’s attention with his flowy gray hair and his wild waving about of his arms. There was also two drummers (one also played the obo) and a guitarist, bass player and a keyboardist who also looked like he may have played some sort of slide guitar as well. It was an intricate set up on stage with all of the amps, cymbals, the xylophone and just the mass of other instruments and chords connecting everything.
Music wise, I listened to the Seer once and frankly it was just too heavy and dense for me to fully comprehend. I knew Swans are one of Patch’s favorite bands of all time though, so I at least knew some background to the band. I knew Gira was a little crazy and known for kicking people in the face and playing so loud that the audience would throw up. I never really understood that the music also was just so complicated yet simple. One of the ten minute songs they did, “Oxygen,” had one simple bass line through out, but every other little intricate thing that happened on stage from Gira’s eerie voice floating over the cacophony to the different drum parts each drummer was employing to the obo screeching piercingly over the heavy bass made the performance feel extremely heavy and dense. I kind of just stood and watched, part in shock and part trying to get into what was going on. It just wasn’t the kind of music that one can head bang to or beat their chest too or really do anything but stand and absorb what is going on.
So that’s what I did. I stood and began to drone out, listening to the semi melodic droning of the instruments getting beaten into oblivion. The band was so intense, even watching the band without the music would have been interesting with how into the music they got. The band members were all very old but extremely in shape and were making the most of their performance by getting into the music very physically. The best part had to be any time Thor, one of the drummers and obo player, picked up his obo and wailed onto it. He was shirtless with a fedora on top of his long blond hair and he looked exactly like what his name implied: a Viking lord. Obo playing is rare enough as it is and seeing it at a harsh noise/punk/rock show made it a million times cooler.
Gira himself was dancing like a mad man on stage, conducting the band very dramatically, waving his arms with the look of someone deranged when in reality he was just sunk so deep into the music he had no idea what was going on in the crowd. Every time there was some sort of break in the music the crowd would hesitantly start to clap but then the music would just start up again, making everyone look foolish.
The thing that really cemented the show into my brain as one of the coolest things I have ever seen was actually getting to meet Thor. My family was in some coffee shop near our hotel and as me and my brother walked in we noticed someone that looked vaguely familiar with the same fedora and hair of Thor. He noticed us staring and actually got up out of his chair and came up to us, realizing that we did in fact know who he was. It was so cool for a celebrity to go out of his way to greet us, and his humble nature was really awesome to experience. Obviously he probably didn’t get a lot of people recognizing him simply because Swans are not that big so it must have felt really good for him to have fans gawking over him. And honestly, it was fun to be a gawking fan and have the artist respect Patch and my enthusiasm.