Swans – in concert at Amsterdam Paradiso – June 6, 1988 – VPRO, Hilversum –
Swans in concert from Amsterdam tonight. Recorded live at the Paradiso on June 6, 1988 and preserved for posterity by Dutch Public broadcaster VPRO.
Swans were formed in 1982 by singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Michael Gira. One of few acts to emerge from the New York City-based no wave scene and stay intact into the next decade, Swans have become recognized for an ever-changing sound, exploring genres such as noise rock, post-punk, industrial and post-rock. Initially, their music was known for its sonic brutality and misanthropic lyrics. Following the addition of singer, songwriter and keyboardist Jarboe in 1986, Swans began to incorporate melody and intricacy into their music. Jarboe remained the band’s only constant member except Gira and semi-constant guitarist Norman Westberg until their dissolution in 1997.
Michael Gira has repeatedly stated he took the moniker Swans as it described the sound he wanted best. Gira’s summation of the name follows along the lines of: “Swans are majestic, beautiful looking creatures. With really ugly temperaments.
The earliest known lineup of Swans comprised Gira on bass guitar and vocals, Jonathan Kane on drums, Sue Hanel on guitar, Mojo on percussion and tape loops and either Thurston Moore, Dan Braun or Jon Tessler on the second bass guitar. Jon Tessler also played percussion and tape loops. Hanel’s only recordings with the group are on the compilation Body to Body, Job to Job, but the ambiguous personnel credits do not make it clear on which songs she performed. Kane stated that “Sue was the most fearsome guitarist we’d ever heard in New York. She was unbelievable.”
Hanel did not stay long in the group, and by the time of their recording debut she had been replaced by Bob Pezzola. This lineup of the group also featured saxophonist Daniel Galli-Duani, who had previously played with Kane as the avant-garde duo Transmission. The debut EP, Swans, released on Labor, is markedly different from anything they would do later. The plodding tempos and distorted, detuned guitar work is reminiscent of such post-punk outfits as Joy Division. However, the minimal chord structures owe more to blues, while the jazz instrumentation and awkward time signatures are evidence of Swans’ roots in the no wave scene of the late 1970s, which had more or less collapsed by the release of 1984’s Cop.
Swans’ music has transformed greatly over the decades, but is typically dark and “apocalyptic”, often focusing on themes of power, religion, sex and death, and has been most generally associated with experimental rock. According to Spin, the band demonstrates “unparalleled ability to translate the absurd violence of the human condition into music that’s as intoxicating as it is intense.”
For a reminder of their 1988 period, here is their performance at the Paradiso, Amsterdam on June of 1988.
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