Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hopscotch 2011 Day 2: Sir Richard Bishop & Swans at Fletcher Opera Theater

All photos by Kevin Norris
The number of great guitarists playing Hopscotch this year is incredible, but if you’re looking for the best one, Sir Richard Bishop should be in the discussion.

Bishop, a solo act, looked slightly odd with just one guitar in front of the massive Swans stage set up, but he showed that's all you really need. The sound from his guitar filled the opera house easily and makes one consider whether any band really needs more than one guitar.

The music melded drones, crashing chords and individual lines played at incredible speed. Bishop’s fingers move so quickly up and down the neck of his guitar, it’s fair to wonder if his joke during the set — “Man, I shouldn’t have taken all that cocaine backstage” — wasn’t a joke at all.

Jokes aside, the dexterity and flexibility Bishop showed with one guitar was skillful and a fitting contrast to the brutality of the next act.

Swans was given two hours to play, but I could only stay for 40 minutes before I had to move on. Even if I didn’t have to leave, I would have anyway. I was not prepared for what has to be the loudest band on the planet.

Even in the back of the balcony, earplugs were necessary, let alone standing in the orchestra pit. I had to position myself with my elbows on my knees and my index fingers in my ears to survive. The entire venue shook. The force of the sound was frightening and, in a way, that made it more exciting.

One song took up the first 40 minutes. Very gradually, the members of the band came out one by one and added a layer to a drone that seemed never ending. When all the members were finally on stage, the band began to add some primal downbeats. Bandleader Michael Gira brought his knee high and stomped with each beat while bearing his teeth.

Swans’ live set is not for the feint of heart or open ears, but if you’re prepared there is something fascinating about the unencumbered power of the band.

Sir Richard Bishop


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