First up was the Swans in Manchester. They're on the road promoting their new album 'To Be Kind' which Buzz'n'Hum has reviewed here. Swans are not a background music kind of band, words such as relentless, uncompromising, scary, brutal, direct etc are the usual starting point for their reviews. Interestingly the new album, the followup to the stunning The Seer, has a strong krautrock vibe kicking along in the background. And it's that krautrock vibe that really came to the fore live, there's an (almost) danceable groove kicking along, which was unexpected. Imagine Can meets Tool meets [modern] Scott Walker. Sort-of.
The band don't interact with the audience much, but Gira is quite mesmerising as a frontman. His vocals range from throaty menace to high pitched screams, all of which suck the audience into their highly dysfunctional world (mirror?).
Speaking of the audience, great cross section of ages at the gig, even if it was, largely, a sausage fest. Swans appear to approach winning audiences over but figuring brutally sonically assaulting them is probably the best approach. It seemed to work. But it was also refreshing to have an audience there for the gig unlike most London concerts... but I did cherish my earplugs.
If you like your music challenging, at times nightmarish, try either The Seer or To Be Kind. The latter has more groove and is probably the more approachable of the two. And yes, approachable is entirely the wrong word. But they're both very very rewarding.
Last night I went to the Chamber Ensemble of London who were playing here as part of the LU Arts programme. An interesting programme on paper of British composers, many of whom I'd never heard of.
Kicked off with Purcell's Overture and Rondeau from Abdalazer which is one of my favourite pieces of music. Things didn't start well. The violins (more precisely the 1st violins) were slightly out of tune to each other. Entries were tentative, leading to a jagged start to themes as the instruments came in. I felt the balance was out too, I was sitting in the middle of a row about 3/4 back in the auditorium and the sound was dominated by the lead violins, which was a shame as the viola/cello/bass performances were excellent - when you could hear them. Personally, I thought they massacred Abdalazer which put me in a bad mood to start with. The same ragged performances and slipped notes occurred in the next piece, things improved when they played English pastoral, probably as the shimmering style of pastoral music covers more out of tune and entry issues.
I quite enjoyed the Harold Darke (of 'in the bleak midwinter' fame) piece (Fantasy in E major) which their composer in residence had orchestrated from an organ piece.
The Ensemble can play very well, as I'd heard a few tracks from their new album on ClassicFM, but something was very amiss for this performance. It was so bad that I left at halftime, I put on John K Samson's Provincial which restored my humour somewhat.
Here's a version of the Rondeau which has more attack (and is in tune) than what I heard last night:
and here's some John K Samson.