Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Two Best Gigs What I Have Seen

Although I have spent most of the last decade becoming more enthusiastic about the possibilities of dance and theatre (Les Ballet C de la B could have been included in this list for their version of Monteverdi's Vespers even without Platel's choreography), I still believe that music can be the most immediate art. Wagner's Ring Cycle might provide the proverbial "good moments but awful quarter-hours" and electronic music is struggling to find the right format for live performance: rock gigs follow a predictable pattern but even the loose informality of Holy Mountain sets offer moments of chest crushing intensity.

Unfortunately, then, these choices are over a decade old: whether that reflects my senility or reflects a genuine diminution in the power of rock to shock and roll is left open to debate. Undeniably, my commitment to music has diminished. In my teens, these bands shaped my life and my belief in art as a transformative experience. Twenty years of deconstructing my aesthetic tastes has made it more difficult to ignore the context of a concert and the need for visceral impact has been replaced by an enthusiasm for more cerebral engagement. 

I'm not saying I am right. I am  just saying that I think I am.

White Light From the Mouth of Infinity

Coming off the back of a pair of astounding albums (White Light and Love of Life), with Gira integrating the heavy ferocity of Swans' early albums and the psychedelic folk of The Burning World, Swans in the 1990s began to chase the shamanic ecstasy that has characteristic their recent come-back. Gira added a romantic lyricism to his previously sparse, brutal lyrics and replaced the slow, grinding slabs of sound which had defined albums like Cop with more complex composition, updating the psychedelic journeys of the late 1960s. 

Thanks to Gira's intense focus, however, Swans never disappeared into pointless jams: the UK tour saw the band find the common ground between harsh impact and melodramatic orchestration. A triple guitar assault was tempered by moments of fragile beauty and the ambiguity of the lyrics - love managing to come out as both saviour and killer, and spirituality a glittering trap and hope - was matched by galloping codas and disciplined improvisations.

The Future of Technology

Before the lap-top made it all too easy - meaning too few musicians bother their arses to test its potential - The Young Gods imagined a music reconstructed from the sounds of the past. Before they started singing in English, the Swiss band mined classical scores and metal riffs to impose the aesthetic of bricolage onto rock'n'roll. In the 1990s, when sampling was largely limited to hip hop or the occasional blatant quote, Frans Treichler melted two hundred years of music down into taut, aggressive rock: like Swans, the odd lyrical interlude only served to heighten the drama.

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