Touring in support of their recently-released 13th studio album To Be Kind, Swans played an intense two-hour set at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall, filling the sold-out venue with an energy that was as complex as it was furious. Frontman Michael Gira commanded every chord and movement, and neither he nor the other band members wasted time with crowd banter, which likely would have interrupted the flow of increasing volume and cascading layers.
A strange choreographed dance played out as each song evolved, and the band was mesmerizing, with added layers elevating each song beyond mere noise. Perhaps Swans’ most interesting member, in terms of sheer instrumental diversity, was Thor Harris. Standing behind a makeshift half-wall of amps, he picked up everything from trombone, to gong, to what appeared to be a homemade string instrument that he played with a cello bow. Swans have truly carved out a sound unlike any other — a rare feat in a world where so many claim everything has already been done before.
Opening up for Swans was Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart, who played a solo drone set. Stewart is no stranger to experimental music, but his 30-minute performance was quite unlike any of the songs he’s recorded or played live with Xiu Xiu. Most of his time was incredibly challenging and somewhat painful, an onslaught of frequencies clashed together somewhat abrasively.