Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square (NXNE)

The birds were leaving. 

10 minutes into the band’s set, pummeled by an unrelenting metallic drone, all the avian life around the square was swirling high above our heads. Clearly the unceasingly brutal sound waves triggered some kind of primal response: fear of an alpha predator, or perhaps an instinctual response to the threat of a volcano or earthquake. Whatever the adaptive mechanism was, it caused them all to take to the sky, circle higher and higher, and disappear from sight.

“The birds are all gone,” I said, staring straight up into a grey void.

“That’s a good sign,” said my friend.

We were both marveling at the sheer incongruity of it all. Behind me, a legion of stunned faces loomed, mouths agape. These people were wondering what was happening. The tension was building vertically, endlessly, directly ascending through the pavement, through the feet and sinews and tissues of the lower trunk, through the gut and the bile duct, into the heart and the lungs and the nervous system. Rising, rising, with no release and no end in sight.

Without ceremony, the men assembled onstage, one at a time, like drunks haphazardly meeting for a semi-planned hour of clinging to the bar while hell burns all around them. Finally their leader appeared, a grizzled figure in black, scowling beneath his unkempt grey mane. He took a great amount of time to strap on his guitar, and then turned, almost as an afterthought, to glower at the assembled congregation. On this occasion, in the bastion of all that is crass and commercial, he had been asked to come and wrestle ghosts.

And wrestle he did. With sheets of noise, and a guitar made from broken steel, and a giant hammer made of glass, he fought for an hour against the leering spirits of falsity. He cleansed us all with fire and sand. He removed the veil that holds us together, that which wraps us in fear and holds us fast with the numbing effects of commerce. He scorched the earth and left only a pure, smoking desert, clean and sterile as the surface of a dead planet.

The birds had all left. The band that drove them away is called SWANS.

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