Bottom Lounge; Tue 5
Even if no one’s heard the Swans since 1997, the singular New York act’s current return to stage and studio is not some trendy, nostalgic reunion. Don’t look back, indeed—there’ll be no renditions of “Raping a Slave.” And there’s certainly no need.
The new My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky is a career peak, a walloping epic that offers gripping variations on frontman Michael Gira’s gutter-to-the-stars aesthetic. It moves from the frightening din that’s defined the band from its 1982 debut to the ethereal supplications of Gira’s latter-day incarnations in Angels of Light, with an awful lot of everything else in between. The six-piece, which features veterans like guitarist Norman Westberg and aptly named percussionist Thor Harris, will have its grubby hands full adapting the tight, multifaceted arrangements in concert. Although cochlea-melting loud, the new material is marked by wild dynamic swings, with sudden outbursts of turbulent trombones and crashing pianos, or the chilly echo of a vibraphone haunting a stoic soliloquy in waltz-time.
Gira’s baritone anchors even the most extreme moments. And his dark sense of humor is still very much intact. “You Fucking People Make Me Sick,” which features vocals from both his two-year-old son and indie hero Devendra Banhart, opens with a Jew’s harp and ends in modern classical cacophony. After the storm, a prayer: “May I find my way to the reason to come home/May I find my way to the foot of your throne,” Gira intones in the album’s closing line. There are only two ways to hear the Swans: on your feet or on your knees.