Michael Gira solo? That’s often a more intense and painful experience than a concert by his legendary SWANS.
While Swans paradoxically offer – in certain settings – shelter amidst the noise, there is nowhere to hide during Giro’s performances. There is only the open wound: no barrier between the emotions of an aging man and the unkind darkness that flows from the stage. And because SWANS are currently in hibernation, their leader returns to Prague’s Archa Theatre with just his guitar and voice. Before Michael Gira, his longest-serving collaborator, colleague and friend, another SWANS member – 𝗞𝗿𝗶𝘀𝘁𝗼𝗳 𝗛𝗛𝗮𝗵𝗻 – will also perform here on December 3 as a special guest.
Fans of SWANS know the cycle well: on one of Michael Gira’s solo recordings, a gnawed-to-the-bone motif (be it a sonic experiment or a lyrical image) appears, which later literally materializes into a sonic attack performed by the complete SWANS. And vice versa: certain parts of the SWANS repertoire will often return to Gira’s solo universe in slightly modified form. However, the common denominator is always destined to dive into a spiral of pain, disgust, confusion and loneliness.
Acoustic guitar has accompanied Gira since the latter half of the ’80s, when SWANS discovered that the world around them could be destroyed and punished in ways other than the scorching lava of brutal noise carnage. Whether it was his solo records then or the later excellent – and still not fully appreciated – albums of the follow-up Angels Of Light, Michael Gira gradually discovered the space in the middle of the songs where his favourites like Leonard Cohen and Hank Williams reside. But of course, Gira’s renditions are not (and never have been) “songs” in the traditional sense – even the quietest and tenderest passages are emotionally wrenching and almost inhumanly demanding in their demands on the listener.
Michael Gira’s concerts are, in a way (and indeed inevitably), very extreme: there is really no “melding of souls” through music on offer here. The author’s entrails are scattered around the stage, Gira deliberately choosing to be alone in the middle of a packed house, the acoustic litanies resembling some kind of ancient hypnotic rapture rather than music. An experience! Not always pleasant, that is, pleasant in the sense of “caressing the soul”, but certainly authentic and liberating.
Opening for his bandmate and boss on December 3 at the Ark will be Kristof Hahn, another key figure of SWANS, and not only of their modern era – Hahn had already played on the 1989 Burning World tour and was already a core member of the band on the 1990 album White Light from the Mouth of Infinity. His steel guitar is a powerful source of drone tension on SWANS albums.
With Gira, Hahn was also in Angels Of Light and his musical resume includes numerous collaborations with Thomas Wydler (Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds), Tav Falco, Alex Chilton and Phil Shoenfelt, and he also played in Pere Ubu.