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Swans: Live at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg | 2024

Words, photos, and videos by Andrea Coloma

Last night, Swans delivered a sold-out sonic maelstrom at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg in NYC. To the delight of fans, they've added a closing encore performance at the same venue tonight. This last-minute addition gives fans another chance to witness Swans' raw power live.

It's been way too long—a little over ten years—since I last saw Swans. Missing their 2020 tour left a void, so I'm thrilled to finally refresh my memory of their sonic assault. Here is a piece of my experience. 

Opening the show, Kristof Hahn (lap steel guitarist of Swans and Pere Ubu) delivered a meditative and gentle performance that prepared the crowd for what was coming next. 

Swans, the legendary New York noise rock outfit, returned to their hometown with a vengeance. The energy surged from the opening note and permeated the two-hour setlist. This performance was evidence of the band's enduring power to challenge and enthrall audiences. Unfazed by the earsplitting noise, other fans couldn't handle the chaos. Some walked out, took breaks, or even plugged their ears to escape the mayhem.

Michael Gira, the band's enigmatic frontman, stood bathed in a wash of white light wrapped around glowing red lights. His vocals, a guttural growl, and gentleness perfectly complemented the band's punishing sonic assault. Guitars and bass buzzed and scraped, drums pounded like a relentless industrial beat, keyboards added washes of unnerving ambiance, and the lap steel guitar illuminated the sounds, thus mesmerizing the crowd. Gira's vocal performance was a mix of screams, exclamations, and tenderness while occasionally slapping his face to differentiate vocal cords. It generated an immersive experience for everyone. He also served as a conductor to the band and certainly exhibited how much power he had over the sounds emitting from each instrument. 

The setlist drew heavily from Swans' latest album, "The Beggar," 2023, and some from "Leaving Meaning," 2019, with songs like "Red Yellow" and "Birthing" morphing into epic sonic journeys. The compositions of setlist played unfolded slowly, building tension with each crashing cymbal and distorted guitar riff before reaching purifying crescendos. The crowd, a mix of die-hard fans and young newcomers, responded with a mixture of rapt attention and physical movement, some headbanging, others simply swaying slumberous to the hypnotic rhythms, including myself. 

Before leaving, I had the distinct privilege of encountering Kristof Hahn. Our conversation, though brief, served as a significant trigger, inspiring me to compose a piece detailing my experience with Swans. 

Swans are not a band for the faint of heart. Their music explores the darkest corners of the human psyche, a deliberate assault on the senses. Yet, within the noise lies a strange beauty, a sense of relief achieved through shared experience.

It was an evening that left ears ringing and minds buzzing. Swans may not be for everyone, but for those who surrender to the experience, it's a live performance that will stay with you long after the last note has faded.

SETLIST – 5/17/2024

  1. The Beggar

  2. The Hanging Man

  3. Away

  4. Red Yellow

  5. Birthing


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