In a sea of elderly goths, local punk scene phantoms, balding men and two kids on a psilocybin safari, Swans unveiled a transcendent 2 hours of musical asceticism. Leading up to the concert I hadn't seen any press hyping the show, which seemed strange considering the universal acclaim for their most recent LP The Seer. Even stranger was the venue selection; Milwaukee's Shank Hall seemed a less-than-ambitious choice -- a venue just as likely to feature a U2 cover band as it is Arlo Guthrie.

Admittedly I don't think I truly understood the credo of Michael Gira and Swans until midway into their performance, but somewhere between an endless gong-wash and the auditory illusion of swinging saw-blades, the band'sgenius and intent became strikingly vivid. Swans weren't going to play a show downtown across from the home of a wayward NBA franchise; they weren't going to sell out the red-curtained and majestic river-front venue, and they surely preferred that no one who was going to come to the show had read about it on a culturally sexy publication.

For the first 30 minutes their sound was rigid and unrelenting, making it clear that although they would occasionally flirt with conventional song structure they were never going to make it easy. Instead, they blasted cyclical rhythms and searing guitar riffs until they seemed certain that the audience's mindframe had mutated into some mangled beast that lived exclusively off of gristle and scraps. Through these challenging minutes it became clear that Swans had the utmost respect for their audience, and more importantly, complete control.

After minutes of deafening reverberation -- and after Thor Harris belted the cathedral bell background of “Avatar” as if summoning a god -- Swans dove into the charring "The Seer." Guitars climbed, led by a hypnotic bass line for at least 12 minutes before a punching detonation left even the wallpaper nauseous.

Throughout the set, Swans meticulously built intricate sonic cityscapes only to bludgeon them into craters. Occasionally Gira would reluctantly move toward the mic, unleash drawls of morbid imagery, then float back into the sound. Although Gira's stage banter countered what I'd been led to expect, he made a sarcastic joke about the audience's collective ugliness and even indulged a few audience members with brief interactions. He seemed pleased to be playing amongst a palpably blue-collar audience, which made sense considering Swans prevailing theme of monotony as a form of eventual progression.

The album closing “The Apostate” served just as such live. Gira began rhythmically slapping himself hard across the face before lingering into a repetitive mantra of “Get out of my cunt.” while sprawled on the stage floor. After another few minutes of warping collisions, a flute spasm and a exclamatory drum solo, Swans stood as if having completed a Broadway performance, hands clasped while they bowed. The audience straightened and applauded in an equally thespian fashion before looking around at each other, amazed and completely disoriented in the best possible way.