Saturday, November 24, 2007

Michael Gira

I have not seen that many shows this year, but one of the few that I did catch was a show by Michael Gira, formerly of the Swans, who did a solo acoustic thing at the Highline Ballroom here in New York on September 14. The show was basically a record release show for the new album by his band Angels of Light. The new CD is called We Are Him.

This is not the time for a long post on the Swans, one of the greatest bands of the 1980s (more on that later) but I will say that seeing Gira (pronounced "jeera" I discovered only recently) was a profoundly intense experience. This guy is not fucking around. He's in his early fifties now (amazing!) and he sorta looked it. Walked on stage, still thin, still so absurdly intense that you either want to laugh or be scared. He had his usual cowboy hat and boots on, sat on a stool with a single acoustic guitar, dead center in front of the stage. I was almost to his front, just a little to the left so I barely escaped the spit that flung out of his mouth as he berated, condemned, nay, admonished former lovers, friends, people, God, himself, and God knows what else for a period of about an hour-and-a-half. Bile. I really had no idea what to expect when I went to see him, but after he did the first song, I just muttered under my breath: "Holy living fuck."

Stripped down to acoustic guitar, every word that came out of his mouth (with his spit), hung like drenched blankets in the dead air, unable to swing. I don't remember the set list anymore--a buncha Swans songs, some Angels of Light--but the entire audience was mesmerized the whole time. All the more amazing, when he would pause between his indictments and sing the most tender of songs, something about (gasp) love or human affection. For those few minutes, you unclenched your firsts, love or affection actually meaning something real and not platitudes or cliches.

A young woman, probably in her late twenties, who came to the show alone (like I did), stood directly infront of him. When Gira launched into his first song, looking mad, and talking about filth and despair, she just broke into a most uncomfortable smile, as if she was so so so embarrassed to be having to hear this most personal lyric in a room full of strangers. I have never seen a smile so uncomfortable. Later at the end of the evening, when Gira did a short encore by doing "God Damn the Sun" (the beautiful final track from the Swans' The Burning World album from 1989), the same woman had tears streaming down her cheeks. Streaming. She lost her capacity to be embarrassed. Gira continued:

When, when we were young
We had no history
So nothing to lose
Meant we could choose
Choose what we wanted then
Without any fear
Or thought of revenge

But then you grew old
And I lost my ambition
So I gained an addiction
To drink and depression

The following is not a terribly good version (sound quality is bad) but you can see the man pretty well as he does "God Damn the Sun."

No comments: