Swans played what will probably be their last ever concert in Aarhus last night – and many interested fans, old and new, turned up to VoxHall to bid them farewell on a crisp early spring night.
I’m actually mystified that the show wasn’t sold out or close enough to capacity for the venue to justify opening the upper balcony area, but a decent crowd came to see the noise rock legends all the same. The warm-up act we got to experience, Little Annie – was nothing short of (pleasantly surprisingly…) mind-blowing.
Little Annie is, I reckon, the last of the true divas – a chanteuse with incredible stage presence and an extremely dark but beautiful persona. I couldn’t believe the sounds coming out of her in fact – and nor could most of the other spellbound audience either. I’d never seen a crowd react in this way to a warm-up act – being so quiet that you could literally hear people swallowing their drinks. Annie’s set was about 45 minutes of old-style piano bar new bohemian romance. Her current foil and collaborator Paul Wallfisch and her, with just piano and voice, seemingly put forth a show that you would easily imagine bearing witness to in Berlin in the 1920s, or New York 1970s – hell – maybe even some desert roadhouse in the Mojave. Annie’s lyrics, stage presence, un-posed intensity and bravado was haunting and at times absolutely life affirming. I’m sold. This was already one of the best sets I’ve seen – and we still have swans to go. I’d wager to guess that she has about 3-400 new fans after last night’s set.
It was time for Swans after a short change over and some smokes and beers. There were a lot of familiar faces from much of the Jutland post-rock and psych scenes – on hand to again, see Swans for probably the last time. Swans, of course, have performed in VoxHall before, and as an audience member told me, they normally tour songs that will eventually end up on the next album – however, this time there is no new album, we’re told.
I was prepared for high volume, and even though I brought the best pair of earplugs I own, my ears are still shredded today – not only from the sheer volume of the performance but the repetitive drone of harsh noise that Swans are capable of wrangling. I mean, it’s their deal, right? They are the best out there at this. For the first maybe 40 minutes or so, founder and leader, Michael Gira, looking like some sort of ethereal ghost cowboy, led his band through a symphony of improvised noise – bringing the band to climaxes and decrescendos with sometimes just the tips of his fingers. He is a master at leading his band and using conventional band instruments to make a sonic template.
After the initial “first bit” we were treated (I think) to some semi-prepared tracks from “The Glowing Man” and “The Seer” – that’s what I clocked anyway. Swans have a particular ability to put you completely in a trance – and I must admit, the beer was going down a treat and I was still buzzing from Little Annie as well. I actually had to take a break from the wall of sonic war that Swans were emitting, ending up in the crisp air and a wee chat with Annie. To put all this in perspective; everyone seems terrified of what’s going on politically in the US. As an American myself, so am I. We’re assembled here seeing actual important art in lovely Aarhus – a very safe space to be – and possibly the whole time in the back of either of the American artist’s minds they could be thinking…we’re fucked. It put things in perspective – and made the concert seem heavy and real after that.
I headed back into Swans. I don’t really know how long their set was – but I was home around Midnight, so it must have been close to 3 hours? Holy Moly. I didn’t have that feeling like after you see a good rock band play a good concert – like – happy and excited that you just saw something wonderful. After Swans, I felt mentally and physically drained, but in the best way possible, like I’d just had a huge fight with my wife and now we’re all good and a little cried out.
It was a night that will be impossible to forget for many moons.
An evening at VoxHall this writer will remember for a long time. Swans brought a 3 hour set of doing what only they can do this good, and did it after a phenomenal warm-up gig from Little Annie. (5.5/6)