Blu-ray Review - Swans: Where Does A Body End? | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020  

Swans: Where Does A Body End?

Studio: MVD Visual

Sep 16, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

In the late 2000s, the Swans concert experience seemed almost mythical. Perhaps it had built up even more over the band’s long hiatus, but by the time Swans had scheduled shows at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple in the fall of 2010, the general consensus among the local hipster blogosphere was that it was something that couldn’t be missed. I knew the band only through their associations with Sonic Youth—who I’ve always adored—and was no stranger to loud concerts, having caught Boris and Sunn O))) shows at the same venue, and semi-recently had the floor shaken beneath me at MBV’s Roseland Ballroom run. And so, I bought a ticket for the Swans gig—one of the few times I’ve gone into a show blind—with only a slim idea of what to expect.

What the group of rough-looking old men on stage before me that evening did was nothing short of fry my brain and shake my bones. As far as live concerts go, it was one of the loudest and most intense things I’ve ever experienced.

Consider Where Does A Body End? the filler course for all the years I spent with only a tertiary awareness of the group. I followed along with some of their releases after that—The Seer and To Be Kind were insta-purchases—but the back catalog always felt daunting, and I believe I came to the band in the wrong way. After the primal assault of their live show, the records felt like less of a full mind-body-soul experience.

Where Does A Body End? begins in No Wave-era New York, with frontman Michael Gira’s pre-Swans group, before taking us back to his troubled childhood and the frightening tales from his youth that brought him to the point where he launched his influential musical vision. From that point, it’s a mostly chronological life story of the enigmatic artist, told by the man himself—who seems surprisingly mellow compared to the fiery beast he becomes onstage—and what feels like hundreds of bandmates, peers, and admirers. (The back of the Blu-ray is half-filled by this roster of interview subjects, which includes members of Sonic Youth, Savages, Einsturzende Neubauten, The Bad Seeds, and many more.) Director Marco Porsia embedded himself with the band for years, and was granted access to any insane amount of archival material and footage.

Obviously, and thankfully, there’s a lot of performance footage. A word of warning: no matter how big your TV or loud your sound system is, it’s not big enough nor loud enough to do those performances full justice.

Where Does A Body End? is a comprehensive portrait of Gira and his musical endeavors. Like a Swans show, the documentary itself can be exhausting—stretching almost three hours, it almost demands to be watched in two sittings. (Fortunately the pace remains even throughout, so it’s easy to jump right back in after a stretch break.) It kept me engaged, as an initiate-level Swans fan—the band’s more diehard fans should love this raw exploration of their legacy even more. 



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