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Swans / Little Annie (live at Trinity Community Arts)

Bristol
26 May 2017

Little Annie live May 2017The stage may have dwarfed her stature, but Little Annie‘s cabaret queen antics were larger than life, completely over-spilling the place. Cloaked in Eastern silk, her waist a blaze of African bracelets, Annie’s hoarse vocal was something to be treasured – both warm and vibrant, bursting with wit and dramatic pose – I felt really fortunate to have finally got to see her perform.

Long-time collaborator Paul Wallfisch was supplying the stiletto(ed) shade that pristinely pinned this delivery. That soulful dialogue she shared, daggering the looking-glass of hindsight. A Tom Waits-like observatory vibrantly snatched, weaving in pointed truths, folly and all the grey inbetweens that fill life’s rich bouquet. A clarity of emotion that the keyboard buffered, bolstered in a host of interesting ways.

This was listening music, crammed to the rafters with illumination. Little cracks of vulnerability appeared everywhere as her words paragraph-skipped the music’s gait. That honeyed voice of hers, purring as Annie’s gaze entrapped. Her words, a-squirm with heartworms, imbued with a lived-in verve. This was experience talking after all, and “Gown Of Tears” seemed to be holding things way too close to the flame. The whispering sighs of her delivery mimicked the stage lighting that crept in dimmed solace to her words. “So much of me has disappeared”, she sang – one of the few songs that were actually too personal to appreciate the applause they heralded.

Although the subject matter was at times heavy, Little Annie was always feather-light. Dragging the heavy chair across the stage between songs, she wryly observed, “We all have our cross to bear”, warning that water will soon be a commodity more precious than oil – holding up her bottled water – and remarking to a witchy cackle, “twenty dollars a pop”.

Little Annie live May 2017

The songs flew by, a cabaret of faded grandeur, Wallfisch-warmed in spooky effect shadows and cob-webbed candy; “You were once vivid , now they’re just livid”, she goes, her arms thrown around the alliterations, hands curling the focus close. She’s such a great story-teller and as the last tale “Dear John” hits (an ode to the devastation wrought by suicide) she brings everyone through her door. “We are all insecure, every fucking one of us”, she pleads. “You are not alone”, the song making her advice flesh, as its words fall through your head with the negative space of regret.

Thor-less and bible black, Swans‘ entrance was rather relaxed – a serene, dronal swirl of an opening that had Michael Gira repeating a single chord. Slowly (very, very slowly) more guitar entered the scene, accompanied by some lovely destroyed piano, Norman Westberg swilling our ears periodically in squally plunges. Phil Puleo faced off Gira, matching the increasing intensity note for note, Chris Pravdica‘s bass sounding incredible, the others hanging on their lead until the volume rose and everything flew off possessed, scorched with monolithic glee, all vibrating, shimmering with gargantuan intent and plenty of face-pulled bizarreness.

Swans live May 2017

Gira’s guitar threw in a few focus-points compassing a primal smooch with those lovely retractions the Swans have haunted us with for so long. A glorious churning, the new boy Wallfisch, (obviously aiming to please) pummelled with furrowed keyboards, head gyrating in a Haitian trace. “I am nothing… I am nothing” repeated Gira, hands raised, fingers petalling imaginary sunflowers as fragmented words fall into an intoxication of eddying feedback and banking thickets.

It’s really hard to pinpoint (these boys have been so prolific , I’ve barely had chance to keep up with their current out-pourings, let alone give their last album a proper going through), but somewhere, recognition sets up a blinding version of “ScreenShot” (or was it “Oxygen”?), a wholesome nugget of interlocking rhythmics and meaty bass, tied to the sweetest of sawing incentives. Christoph Hahn gurned his best Steptoe impression as he wielded some serious ferocity into the mix, and when Gira motioned its death sentence, you just knew more of the same was itching to present itself.

Swans live May 2017

And yes, now at the cusp of another hour, the place was again heaving to a Tolkien-esque battle scene of clashing metal and vibrato(ed) delirium. Michael Gira exerted total control over the proceedings, rousing a host of tasty temperatures, lyrically interjected with a beleaguered growl, then grounding it all down to an woozy whir of ambience that Pravdica and Westberg optimised in slow curving signatures.

A mellow dub-like atmosphere that Gira’s voice bewitched, sending out a host of disconnections that skull-cantered their own logics. An embryonic newbie (that was clearly still evolving) in the vein of “To Be Kind” that serene-sloped some solemn shivers and had Gira smiling with the satisfying response it instilled in the audience (it’s only later I realised that this was the latter half of “Cloud Of Unknowing”).Swans live May 2017

Now, most bands would gracefully depart at this point, but the chisel-hard clanking (well, more like demonic anvil) that quickly replaced the clapping and wolf whistles was tonight’s proper finale, the gutsy single-mindedness of which had me regretting forgetting my earplugs. A brutal, crescendo-filled delight of driven momentums and climatic stupor that was “The Glowing Man” (a mammoth half an hour in duration too). Again, Norman was stoically slicing it up, mirrored by Pravdica, as Puleo took over from Chris’s incisive bass, tempo-charging the rippling repetition further .

“I’m a glowing man… I am”, insists Gira, his words ablaze in a mania-pointed verve that filled the space with raging shapes, compacted further, worming into your cortex like a diamond tipped drill-head, consuming your senses – something that had me nursing my ruined ears all the way into the bank holiday.

-Michael Rodham-Heaps-

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