After all that stuff I just said about Swans yesterday, I should note that I missed out on a chance to see Swans in Vancouver, which I’m still pretty gutted about. However, I did take a day off work earlier in the year to see songwriter Michael Gira performing live in a at St. Andrew’s in the Square in Glasgow.
It was part of a festival called Counterflows, held in a deconsecrated church, and the first act of the night was a surprisingly great Glaswegian act called Early Songs. Following that, a Portland-based act Grouper collaborating with Diamond Catalog, in a set all about slow-building ambient tape loops and drones and was really up my alley. I completely zoned out during that performance, which, given my state of mind at that time, was most welcome.
But for Gira himself, starkly lit, on a stool with a guitar, it was all focus.
It was a great performance, surprisingly intimate, with a little twinge of tension in the air, which is something Michael Gira seems to exude. The man is intense. The songs, many of which were drawn from his Angels of Light and Swans catalogues, were dredged up from the darkest pits of his soul.
In between each he chatted a little. “So, do you all worship here?” to which the crowd laughed. “No I’m serious. Wouldn’t be such a bad thing.” Someone tried to explain that the building had been deconsecrated, but I don’t think he understood. At one point he asked for a small whisky to help his vocal cords and some kid immediately ran to the bar to get one and then drank with him. It was awkward.
Speaking of awkward, it’s weird when you’re hearing a guy playing such introspectively dark and intense music in a former Christian church. The architecture of the place imposed heavily itself upon the tone of the evening, even acoustically through its natural reverberation. The crowd stayed mostly quiet and polite, and the silent moments in between songs were filled with that weird sense of anticipation through muffled coughing that seemed to hover in the air during the Sunday services of my youth. At the same time, this setting gave the whole night a weird sense of purpose and seemed to elevate it above what could have been experienced in some dingy pub basement (most small venues in Glasgow).
At a point in my life where I would describe my general mood as “very low”, this concert was as resonant as it was enjoyable.