Swans are animals which symbolize romantic love because when you put two of them together, their necks almost resemble a heart. In addition, I’m told they mate for life, which might also have something to do with it. They should not be confused with Swans, which is a band whose music bores its way into your soul only to leave an abyss that listens back. This is a very important distinction.

When I heard the latter was coming to Portland, I asked my friends if they wanted to go see Swans with me. “The bird?” asked Garrett Casey ’15. “The Frisbee player?” chuckled Sam Miller ’15. “No,” I said, “the band.” See above.

“Sure,” said Leo Shaw ’15, who doesn’t listen to anything released after 1988, the year Sonic Youth made “Daydream Nation” and won music. 
“Do we need to get tickets?” Hugh Ratcliffe ’15 wondered aloud, boyish charm dancing across his face.

“I don’t think so,” I replied, figuring that Swans was one of those bands driveling hipsters claim to like but never really follow through on seeing live, or, you know, listening to. It is difficult listening for some people, after all. 

“For some people,” I guffawed, before putting in headphones. “What’s that?” Peter Nauffts ’15 said. “What’s that?” I said, gesturing to the headphones. “What’s that?” Thom Yorke said, because that is a lyric to the Radiohead song I was intellectualizing at the moment.

Several months passed until the night of the concert, and then Leo and I clambered into Hugh’s car. 

“Let’s get some earplugs,” Hugh said. I intuited he was referring to Swans’ tendency to make their audience’s ears bleed during live shows. “I got us covered,” I said, brandishing the box of $4.95 earplugs I had purchased for this very occasion. “They reduce noise by up to 33 decibels!”

On the way to Portland, Hugh and Leo were involved in a heated conversation regarding the kind of music Swans makes. “It’s like if Sigur Ros had a baby with doom metal,” Hugh posited. “Not really doom metal,” countered Leo. “Noise rock?” ventured Hugh. “Experimental,” shrugged Leo. 

I had been busy laughing at the comedy of existence in the backseat, but even if I were one to participate in boxing Swans into a corner, I wouldn’t have said “haven’t you philistines heard of No Wave?” because I am only that kind of asshole in print.

When we arrived at the venue, we ditched our coats and I ran into my friend Shaun. “I really want my ears to bleed tonight,” said Shaun. I laughed in a manner which I hope conveyed the sentiment “me too” while I strategically tucked my box of earplugs further into my pocket. Shaun is more hardcore than I am.

Back up by the stage, Leo and Hugh were ordering beers. They are both 22. I am 21, so fortunately all three of us could purchase alcohol legally and consume it safely. “Unlike some people,” I muttered. “What’s that?” Hugh said. “What’s that?” I said, gesturing to my earplugs.
We barely had to stand around talking awkwardly for five minutes when Michael Gira came onstage. Michael Gira is sixty years old but I can’t imagine him being a grandfather. For one thing, he has long oily hair. For another thing, he is the frontman of Swans. 

For those of you who don’t know, Swans’ live act is described by Ticketmaster user Lightninger as “a metaphysical assault.” “Uh-oh,” I said, digging my earplugs in a little deeper.

Thus commenced two hours and 15 minutes of punishing and soul-baring experimental-noise-rock-meets-Sigur-Ros. I don’t know how many songs they played, though it’s possible the number is as low as five. Half-hour epics tend to sprawl out. 

In celebration of life’s absurdity, the deafening barrage of guitars, glockenspiels and trombones shook confetti, that vestige of simpler times, from the venue’s rafters. 

At the end of a song, a crowd member dead-panned, “Hey, that was pretty good,” as if to say, “There are no atheists at a Swans concert.” Michael Gira ignored him. The band promptly launched into a suite whose sole intelligible lyric was “We’re living in a wonderland.” 

As Swans deconstructed every conceivable performance trope and built from the ashes of rock ‘n’ roll a new idol of burning, aqueous passion, I thought, for a brief but beautiful second, that something mattered.

The final chord, a death knell, sounded. I awoke from my stupor. “Iron and Wine’s sound really did a 180,” I said, winking and pointing at one of Swans’ hirsute drummers. “Unnngh,” Leo said, drained. “What’s that?” Hugh said, his boyish charm aged by decades. 

Editor’s note: Garrett Casey ’15, Sam Miller ’15 and Leo Shaw ’15 are Orient staff members.