words by Michael Todd | photos by Jon Augustine
Yes, one of Swans' drummers is named Thor: Thor Harris, that is. No, we can't provide an accurate count of how many times he swung his massive mallets at a pair of giant gongs on Thursday at The Bourbon Theatre.
No matter Harris' mythical name, though, Swans' frontman Michael Gira serves as what appears to be ruthless dictator, and no matter how hard Harris hit those heavy pieces of metal, you could still barely hear him behind the internal-organ-shaking loudness of the rest of the band. Gira often spins his hands around his wrists in a "keep it going, damn it" gesture, orchestrating and demanding more and more from his group. During soundcheck, he kept hammering through a piece of the music, again and again, until the band nailed it at last, to which Gira responded, "This might be the best band I've ever had."
No wonder the former members list numbers more than 20, and only Norman Westberg remains as one of Gira's original bandmates. As a fan, the heart Gira pulls out of the rest of Swans is worth their hard work. Pardon the slight hyperbole, but this post-punk outfit born in 1982 produced the most hurricane-like conditions Nebraska has ever experienced. Earplugs were not optional, if longterm hearing loss wasn't appealing.
After an opening batch of breakless, percussive and fragmented-sound songs from The Faint's Dapose, Xiu Xiu played the solo set to lead into Swans, and the sometimes larger group's Jamie Stewart would pull out his slingshot and take aim at his own gong, considerably smaller but just as visually grabbing when his projectiles would splat. Stewart would change instruments, too, between most every song, and sometimes throw his arm through the forcefield of a theremin that sounded like space being split. Let's just say Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" has likely never been covered as so many beads of sweat ran down the performer's contorted face.
See photos from the concert here, and good luck finding another show this year with more decibels.
Michael Todd is Hear Nebraska's managing editor. He can't thank Casey Welsch enough for telling him to buy earplugs. Reach Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.