(Photos: Peter Hutchins)

You lose time at a Swans concert. Both in that your senses leave you and that six songs in two hours basically fucks with your notion of time. Roaring back after a long hiatus with three albums, each more punishing, epic and brutal than the prior, the men of Swans are perpetrating some of the best concerts you will likely see in 2014. Lead singer Michael Gira is stony and perhaps a bit threatening. His lank hair hangs limp around a craggy face, one that has seen some shit, one with eyes often closed, feeling the glorious noise of his band, studying the groove, pinched by concentration.

The crowd mostly stands stock still. A few feel the moment and nod along. But most appear transfixed. Eyes wide, mouth agog. Six songs in two hours, man. That’s something pretty intense and requires devotion.

How to pick those six songs from catalog spanning decades? Go for the new ones. “Frankie M,” “A Little God in My Hands,” “The Apostate,” “Just a Little Boy,” “Don’t Go,” “Bring the Sun/Black Hole Man.” That’s it. But the songs stretched close to 30 minutes, threatening to break down into thundering crescendos that never seem to end. My friend claimed the bass alone could induce a heart attack. You feel it. A Swans show is not something to take lightly.

Gira would take one step towards the microphone, take a step back, threaten to scream, step to the mic again and then either croak in his low baritone or just shout at and menace the audience. Or he would break into spasmodic dancing. Gira is a perfectionist. At one juncture, he pointed his guitar at a woman in front of me and mouthed, “Don’t do that.” When his microphone squeaked, he lumbered off-stage, mid-song, to admonish the sound guy. The band kept playing. Gira did this three times. The song kept going

Swans isn’t a one man outfit. Thor Harris looked like the Yeti himself, pounding away on his vibraphone or bells. Christoph Hahn could be a Russian hit man, leaning over his pedal steel, chewing gum like a madman. The band is tight. They watch Gira. He lets them know when to unleash hellfire and when to keep it simmering. The show certainly simmered a lot.

Some may miss Jarboe, but this incarnation of Swans is different. There is no sweetness or light in the suffocating embrace of these songs. This is terror in sonic form. Nick Cave said recently that his intention is to dominate and terrify his audiences. If that is his true intention, he should watch Gira. There are no smiles until the curtain call at the end. But what a curtain call it was, the band standing and accepting the applause, fully aware of its gathering strength. And then many of them came into the audience to chat with and high-five fans.

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