Seeing the Swans
Sometimes you end up having a transformative experience when you least expect it.
When the band the Swans came to Houston in June, and the flight I was expecting to be on was cancelled, percussionist Thor Harris was kind enough to invite me to come to their show.
Over the years, many of my friends have raved about the Swans, buying their albums and looking forward to their shows. In contrast, I’d only listened to a few of their songs. I hadn’t liked what I’d heard enough to pursue listening to more of their music.
Still, I had liked the new album “To Be Kind” enough when it had streamed on NPR this spring that I’d bought a copy when the record came out. Yet from all the things I’d heard about how intense the Swans were, I wasn’t expecting that I’d like the band live. I thought they would be way, way too much for me!
I didn’t think I was that kind of girl.
Sure, I’d been to plenty of punk shows over the years—even watching D.O.A. and Flag shows from the cluster of people on the side of the stage—but from what everyone else was saying, I thought the Swans live show would be overwhelming in the wrong way.
After all, I’d read a lot about how the Swans live show was cathartic and life-changing. About how Swans leader Michael Gira often demanded that the air conditioning be cut off inside a venue during the band’s show, in order to achieve a sweat-lodge vibe.
I thought I’d just stay for a song or two, then sneak out the back of Fitzgerald’s Houston to catch my rescheduled early flight.
Instead I ended up standing nearly in the front row for the entire show, not even leaving to get a beer. I was close enough to read the lyrics on Gira’s music stand—albeit backward. I was also enjoying the spectacle of the crowd behind me having a transformative experience that the band was providing.
I can’t say I’m a total convert to the cult of the Swans, but I’ve been thinking about that show for months. I’d totally go see the band again if I were in the same city where they were playing.
While I missed my flight out of Houston’s Hobby Airport that next morning, I think seeing that Swans show was worth it.
The Swans are currently touring the American West Coast.