Swans live @ The Button Factory, Dublin 25 May 2015

A Monday night on Dublin’s live circuit is usually the preserve of only the most committed music fan, but this is no ordinary Monday night, and New York’s Swans are no ordinary band. On the back of two of the most highly rated albums of the last five years, Michael Gira and his cohorts arrived to play a sold out show in the Button Factory, a return to the same venue they played in August 2013.

The place is rammed; their reputation as a band capable of delivering a near religious experience ensures that the Button Factory is thronged with the devoted, the curious and a healthy cluster of those who like to be seen when the latest hip band rolls into town.

I had been looking forward to this for months – last year’s To Be Kind was my favourite album of the year (reviewed here) and the prospect of seeing Gira and the band deliver these frighteningly intense songs in a live setting meant that this was one of my most eagerly anticipated gigs in quite some time.

Their reputation as one of the loudest bands on the circuit is well earned – arriving late,  I had to force myself in through the only entrance where people weren’t literally spilling out the doors. Unfortunately, this happened to be the entrance right next to the stage so for the first thirty minutes, I felt the full force of the Swans brutal aural assault.

Swans aren’t just loud – their sound completely swamps the senses – you cannot hear yourself think or breathe when they are at full blast.

On first impact, you can’t help but be impressed. Their singular form of musical brutality retains an almost masochistic thrill but somewhere after they play ‘A Little God in My Hands’, the impact begins to diminish.  The fifteen minutes of drones and shrill, cacophonous feedback that follows gives away to another piece of music of long, meandering nothingness punctuated by punishing, all out, sonic meltdowns.  The dynamic, measured build ups that are such a feature of To Be Kind are lost.

Gira is at the centre of the maelstrom they create on stage but seems somewhat detached and disinterested, limply conducting proceedings by waving his hands around in the air, and throwing the occasional glare in the direction of the musicians. His vocal chants are largely garbled and unintelligible and an hour into the set, I begin to feel something I did not expect to feel entering the venue – boredom.

Retreating to the back of the room robs the music of much of its sheer visceral power, and those long, noodling instrumental passages begin to become nothing more than a test of endurance.

The pummelling ‘Bring The Sun Toussaint L’ouverture’ stirs things up briefly, but the effect of yet another punishing bout of heavy riffing begins to feel like being beaten over the head with a blunt instrument; as the show reaches the two hour mark, the realisation hits home that this has been a crushingly disappointing experience.

There is no doubt that there will be many who came away from the show feeling they got the near religious experience they had hoped for. Swans live are uncompromising, experimental and challenging but for me, they just didn’t excite or entertain. It was a curiously and disappointingly hollow show, a turgid two hours of art rock delivered with maximum force but devoid of thrills.