Michael Gira

Living '02

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Michael Gira's post-Swans efforts have covered everything from extreme electronic experiments to guitar-and-vocal only efforts; this recording from a date in Portugal falls squarely in the latter camp. As detailed in his wryly funny liner notes, there's 'no one to blame but myself,' with the eleven songs recorded by an audience member capturing 'the sound as it was in the room.' The slight echo and distance on Gira's voice that results is both an unavoidable effect and a nice touch, capturing a live performance's warmth well. Swans, Angels of Light and solo songs all take a bow before an appreciative, spellbound audience -- during several dramatic pauses on "What Will Come," the silence is absolute, but the applause at the conclusion is enthusiastic. Gira's sense of timing and delivery has if anything gotten all the more sharp with time, shifting easily and more often than not perfectly between wrenching calls to the sky and carefully focused, close-to-the-mike words. "God Damn the Sun" has rarely sounded so forlorn and still heart-touching at the same time, while the majestic "Failure," if not quite so stunning, isn't far behind. Meanwhile, the quiet but tense arrangement of "Nations" is punctuated by some downright harrowing vocals, high-pitched and powerful, and even those are trumped by the blasting conclusion of "All Souls Rising," Gira sounding on the verge of trashing both his guitar and vocal cords. More than once Gira calls to mind Johnny Cash's brilliant live solo turns -- a tough comparison to live up to, but the results on songs like "My Suicide" are hard to argue with. Perhaps the most intriguing reworking comes courtesy of "Two Women," with the nearly quarter-hour epic from the Angels of Light's How I Loved You turned into a six-minute effort that loses none of the song's sweep.