Archives for posts with tag: The Institute

Michael Gira

An awkward silence hung over the Birmingham audience as Swans took to the stage, either too polite, or too intimidated to applaud the arrival of Michael Gira and his legendary New York Experimental/Noise Rock band. It was the last moment of calm and silence that anyone in The Library would hear for over two hours. As Swans’ sucked the air from the room, any traditional concepts of melody or rhythm went with it, and the very idea of verse-chorus song structure probably would’ve been met with a sly smirk.

They opened with Gira shaking the room with his impossibly deep baritone, chanting “there are millions and millions of stars in your eyes” over a hauntingly shrill and sparse rhythm, sometimes singing it off-mic as he drifted around the stage with his own eyes closed. The rest of the band met his volume as they violently snapped through “Mother of the World”, a panting menace of a song from The Seer, Swans equally demented 2012 album. They ripped into it with such fervour that several earplugless individuals immediately fled the barrier.

Swans’ six man line-up ranges from your standard stern faced rhythm guitarist, bassist and drummer, to the more nebulous and hard to define multi-instrumentalist. Thor Harris, who lived up to his name by playing bare chested, literally provided Swans’ bells and whistles, along with brass and fierce percussion. Chris Pravdica provided the punishing bass catalyst of “Coward”, coercing the rest of the rhythm section into the songs intense severity. Gira sang and spat out the unnerving lyrics amongst the troubled rhythms, shouting: “I don’t know you / I can’t use you / Put your knife in me”. He seemed to be aware of every noise and note that each of his band members were making or playing; he would repeatedly beckon to them for more volume, or place his guitar down and conduct their corrosive cacophony with his convulsive dancing.

They played long and unhurried versions of their songs, indulging in long abstract noise rock sections that frequently pushed song lengths well past the 20 minute mark. They would play the same earth shattering mantric refrains until the sense altering volume finally began to white out. After 90 minutes Gira said that there set was only half over, it’s hard to imagine he was joking, and he only found time for one more song before the 11pm curfew.

Their dirge of anguished violent noise was enough to set your brain on fire, engulfing it as it found a form of ecstasy within Swans’ transcendent onslaught, becoming enamoured and alive with frisson as their volume shook your bones, and Gira spouted what must’ve been demonic tongues. The awkward silence had transformed to loud applause by their set’s end, and the band relieved the haunting tension by taking uncharacteristically playful bows.

It’s so easy to call the noise produced by some of music’s loudest bands a ‘wall of sound’. Any band who push their volume far into the red have probably had their live set described this way, but for Swans it just doesn’t feel like an apt description. The noise they created on The Library’s stage didn’t feel like an isolating wall, it didn’t block out audience, it enveloped them. It felt like you were within it, hurtling with it through dark and unsettling scenes, becoming ever more willing to hand yourself over to its all-consuming power, not even caring that it was turning anything caught in its wake to dust.

5/5

Foals

You’d probably guess that Foals are Sixth Form favourites judging from the predominantly youngish and enthusiastic crowd that was gathered to see them in The Institute. But upon closer inspection you’d notice a varied audience, and it’s easy to see why. The artsy, experimental sheen of Foals’ music is lightened, and made more accessible, by their aggressive pop hooks and dancey guitar lines. These elements make their music easy to sing, or drunkenly chant along to, and have likely caused the band to be embraced by general music lovers and laddish bantering students alike (these two demographics would probably make for a fun Venn diagram). Foals’ brand of Indie Rock/Pop will probably work for you whether you want to bang your head or dance your heart out. You can either slam along with the band’s measured aggression or simply let it move your feet.

The excitement noticeably erupted in the Birmingham venue as an intro tape of Anna Meredith’s “Nautilus” filled the room to announce the band’s arrival. They opened, aptly enough, with “Prelude”, the opening instrumental from their new album Holy Fire. Jack Bevan’s crisp percussive snare strikes and the looping textural guitar didn’t prepare the crowd for the song’s surprisingly sharp breakdown, which still worked even though it hit long after the crowd had pre-emptively gone nuts. After a brief pause their set shifted as Yannis Philippakis played the near-signature guitar line of Total Life Forever’s “Miami”, changing its definition from classical to post punk as the song progressed.

An early set appearance of “My Number” seized and converted any members of the crowd who weren’t already feeling it. Even as the excitable crowd slammed, crashed and careened into one another they still managed to generate as much noise as the band, by loudly singing along to the chorus as the air was squeezed from their lungs. It’s a song that is so catchy, and greeted so enthusiastically, that you’d think it was a much bigger hit than it actually it. After all it was even deemed to be funky and stone cold pop enough by gold standard Popists Hot Chip, who recently honoured the single with a neat remix. The infectious song hit the crowd and generated enough energy to make you believe that even the people outside of the venue, like in the song’s video, were dancing in the street. And you’d never be able to prove otherwise, unless you had the same unnervingly fluid, wall ignoring, Evil Dead II-like camera that was used to film said video with you.

As the song ended the transitional heartbeat bass drum of “Blue Blood” pulsed far slower than the majority of the circulatory systems on the dance floor did. The band almost lost momentum as the carefully allowed “Milk & Black Spiders” to build, but then they forcefully ripped it back with a glistening and galvanic middle section. They thrilled at half speed with the cruising smooth funk undercurrent of “Late Night”, which Yannis ended with a neon guitar solo. It was a paced and relaxed moment that Foals quickly dismissed with a violent looking stage dive that Yannis took during the dance floor fury of “Providence”.

Large chunks of the crowd tried to sit down during the serene opening of “Spanish Sahara”, which was probably so they could give the band the standing ovation they deserved as they furiously beat out the outros solid tempo. When they were back of their feet, people were jumping and ready to lose themselves again, even before the band kicked into the breakdown of “Red Socks Pugie” from their debut album Antidotes. The straight New York-like Dance Punk of “Electric Bloom” saw Yannis partly joining the rhythm section, whilst still fronting the band with an unhinged Byrne-ian energy as he brandished a pair of drumsticks and stormed through the refrain. Corrosive waves of distortion crashed through the venue and suddenly cut out at maximum volume as the song crashed into its ending and the band left the stage.

The crowd was wild enough by this point that not playing an encore just wasn’t an option. Yannis returned alone to open the encore with a solo version of “Moon”, which he introduced as a “twisted little number”. The song is a slow burn and he temporarily lost the still hopped up crowd, who began to chat amongst themselves during the pretty but sleepy number. He instantly won them back with an unimaginative but effective shout of “Are you fucking ready?” as his bandmates returned for a venue shaking rendition of “Inhaler” that hit with a supersonic force. A call from Yannis of “Let’s desecrate this building” prepped their closer “Two Steps, Twice”. It layered and layered and dragged the perfectly willing crowd through a final sweaty crush and dance along.

Foals play many of their songs live in a fashion that is far more vicious and thrillingly ill-mannered than any of their studio recordings, and the band was clearly loving their growing successes as they fed off of The Institute’s crowd. A crowd that couldn’t quite decide how to react to the music, but clearly loved it. The exhausted and beaming fans filed out of the venue to the sound of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”, which is probably the only song that could keep the party that Foals started going.

5/5