michael's white hands

last week there was another show in a great series of benefits to save tonic. this was the much-anticipated debut performance of the new incarnation of angels of light. angels is the loose ensemble built around michael gira, founder of swans.

this was also the record release party for both angels and akron/family, a band that has been bubbling under for the past year, playing lots of small shows while recording for gira's label young god records. this was one of the best shows i've seen them do. they ran the gamut from gentle acoustic minimal songs centered on ryan's soft tenor, to four-part harmonies and backwoods country singalongs, to post-rock soundscapes. one of my favorites is the song where they use static from a small tv onstage. they're great fun to watch and listen to because they're a true ensemble. my only complaint, and it's a minor one, is that they get so caught up in the joy of their amazing music-making interplay that they go on a bit too long, especially for an act opening for a prominent artist. the audience certainly got their money's worth though, especially the first 50 people entering who received promo copies of both new CDs (i was happy to be among them). you can't fault them for lack of enthusiasm or energy, since they have to play a second set as gira's backing band.

when michael gira takes the stage, it's with a presence that commands the attention of everyone in the room. this was apparent when he had to tell people they weren't actually about to play yet, they were just getting comfortable onstage. he had to set up his customary onstage beverage bar, which as near as i can tell, is cups of water, hot tea, and/or whiskey, which he alternates sips of between songs. contrary to his fearsome reputation and heavy music (especially from his former band), he's actually quite warm, friendly, and affable onstage (provided you don't piss him off). however, this pleasant and sociable side dissipates quickly as each song is wrenched from somewhere inside him. most of the new songs are comparatively sunny and poppy, in a late-60's so-cal way, but he still makes equal time for the dark stuff. particularly great was an amazing slow dark untitled and unrecorded song that had me wishing it was already 2-3 years from now so i could own it on CD. akron/family played well, reeling in their wildness respectfully for their new mentor's music. he in turn gave them respect by doing one of their songs for the angels' encore - a high compliment.

the title of this post comes from a great song on the new angels of light album.