Live Review

Mouth To Mouth, Koko, London

Gira and co. stretch seven songs over two and a half hours.

A seven hour event of ‘urgent performance orientated’ music – replete with headlining Swans – was never going to be anything other than gruelling. Curated by Swans mainman Michael Gira, this inaugural Mouth to Mouth event was undeniably urgent, often punishing and only occasionally missed the spot.

This one misstep is Xiu Xiu; Jamie Stewart essentially performs solo, accompanying himself on guitar and a range of farm sound effects. Married to his quasi religious intonations, this creates an effect that is, quite frankly, bonkers, sadly lacking in any urgency or focus. However, Stewart has the misfortune to follow a remarkable set from Grouper, Liz Harris’ ripples of trembling avant garde noise seeming permanently on the verge of taking off into the stratosphere, while she maintains her performance with a wonderful grace and restraint. Her set enraptures the room in a somnambulistic haze, an almost entirely static stage presence emanating a calm before the impending monsoon.

Ben Frost’s appearance doesn’t so much up the ante as rip the entire edifice into pieces. Armed with two drummers, the Australian composer brings his no guitars, no strings, no piano and no acoustics routine and thoroughly pummels KOKO into submission, muscling up to – and perhaps defeating – the headline act. Similar, but much more unlikely upstagers, are Mercury Rev, playing to a series of silent films. Led by Grasshopper’s Tettix Wave machine, their psychedelic electronics bleep and glitch and glisten in a glorious fugue of sonic, chemical effluence.

Swans themselves appear to have become, despite Gira’s growls to the opposite, a hip outfit and their last appearance at the venue in November was something of a landmark gig. For Mouth to Mouth, Gira and co. stretch seven songs over two and a half hours, primarily taken from ‘The Seer’. This results in an unending series of crescendoes, driven and directed by Gira’s leaps and guitar-arm conducting, ranging from a new song ‘Screen Shot’ to the comparatively ancient ‘Coward’. It’s hard, nay life-threatening to argue with such ferocious intensity, but Swans’ set does ultimately seem to comprise of extended outros and intros with the ‘songs’ merely existing in between. On its own merits, this is all remarkable, but in comparison to their precursors, the devastating lustre is ever so slightly tarnished.

Tags: Swans, Features

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