Swans make Philly return four decades into critically lauded career

Swans’ Michael Gira embraces the importance of failure towards new record, appreciates Duchamp, as the band plays Philadelphia on Saturday

More than four decades into their critically lauded career, Swans continues to push sonic boundaries with their work and looks to put out a new release in 2025.

The band is out on a North American tour supporting their 2023 release, The Beggar, including a tour stop in Philadelphia at Union Transfer on April 13. For the past year, the band has toured heavily throughout Europe and the United States.

Their recent release showcases a knack for juxtaposing moments of calmness and serenity with an overwhelming intensity when its members pound and pluck their instruments in unison.

For band leader Michael Gira, the songs on their recent release have transformed into new “completely new pieces” throughout their heavy touring slate.

“If someone had seen a set [at] the beginning of the tour 16 months ago, they wouldn’t recognize the set now,” Gira said. “It’s sort of like a long slow process of improvisation… Gradually things just kind of develop into something else and that’s to me a real joy. It always sounds the best when it’s fresh and you never get that back, but we’re always looking for that moment when something surprising happens.”

The City of Brotherly Love has been a frequent tour stop for years including when the band opened for The Birthday Party (which featured Nick Cave) in 1983 at the East Side Club. Gira stays pretty locked in during his performances, which is why he’s only picked up certain details of Philly crowds when he has performed here.

“The thing I noticed in Philadelphia is that the crowd wears pink hats,” Gira said. “Whereas in New York City, they wear orange hats. And in Helsinki, they don’t wear anything at all.”

On this tour, the six-piece band will be supporting their 2023 release, The Beggar, before heading back to the studio to complete a follow up expected to be released in early 2025.

But one thing Philly has that has always stuck out to him is the collection of Marcel Duchamp pieces at the Museum of Art. Duchamp’s “readymades” and his embrace of Dadaism attract enthusiasts from around the world to view his works in-person.

“I’m particularly fond of his piece Étant donnés, which to me is like a portal to a world of wonder and delight,” Gira said. “There’s a hole in it and you go up to it and you look in the door and there’s this sort of garden of delights inside when you look in this hole, and it’s just a beautifully constructed piece of art.”

When he’s not admiring other artists’ works, Gira is busy crafting his own. While on the road, the band’s improvisations are set to emerge as a new record in early 2025. Just a few weeks ago when their European tour wrapped up, the band went straight to the studio.

“The only thing that remains from me… is to come up with new words and we have a new album,” Gira said. “So all this stuff that accrued just through playing became all new material.”

The improvisations the band pursues while playing live come from Gira’s stance that the recorded works are never finished.

“If there’s something in the music that implies a way forward, then it’s a success,” Gira said. “The important thing for me is to keep working. Nothing’s ever finished and to me the most important thing is to fail and to find new possibilities in failure…It took me decades to learn that nothing is ever finished and that the most important thing is the process.”

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