Monday, February 07, 2005

 

Feel Good Now

In actual fact, I do not feel at all good right now. I have a sore throat and fever, on the one hand, and on the other hand I have a job that involves picking up heavy weights and looking healthy. The two don't mix well.

Nonetheless, Feel Good Now by Swans is that rarest of rarities: the essential live document that's actually essential. It used to bear the additional badge of honor of being the even more unusual "bootleg that's actually worth the money" but it was officially reissued several years ago.

I've bought and downloaded a lot of live concerts/unreleased stuff, and you probably have too, and the sad fact is that (if you're brutally honest) unofficial releases are rarely really worth more than one spin. Feel Good Now features better sound, a tighter song selection, and better performances than its studio analogue, Children of God, which is arguably the best Swans album and certainly their first reasonably accessible one. I can't think of any other example of a band hitting all four of those points (sound, selection, performance, peak period) on one live recording. If you know of one, comments are hereby solicited!

Side by side comparison is probably in order. Here's the somewhat stiff title track from the studio Children of God, and here's the Carmina Burana to the max version from Feel Good Now, with Michael Gira sounding genuinely posessed as he rants over the Jarboe choir. Yow! Obviously you want to play these loud. Those little speakers hooked up to your computer aren't going to convey this properly.

My favorite track from Feel Good Now (also one of my favorite songs period) is the bludgeoning (until the heavens part and Gira offers up an actual catchy chorus-type thing) Sex, God, Sex. By the way, guess what Children of God is thematically about. Give it a shot! The first time you hear it, Sex, God, Sex starts off sounding like it's just going to repeat two notes forever, but be patient. There's a payoff.

Sadly for the thrifty Swans completest, the reissue on Atavistic differs from the original CD, which differs from the original vinyl. The Atavistic CD's sequencing is weird, as it starts with what should obviously be the last song (and what is the last song on the original CD and lp: a something like 18 minute long Blind Love that's a little intense as an opener). The Atavistic CD also cuts out some spoken parts that are kind of interesting and/or amusing.

The CD versions of this are missing one song from the vinyl: Our Love Lies. If you can find the original CD (good luck) it's probably my favorite format: better content than the reissue but more convenient than the vinyl. Oh, when I say it was a bootleg, I mean like Sonic Youth's Walls Have Ears. The kind of release that you could buy in a normal store that didn't usually sell bootlegs. "Official Bootleg" is the term, I believe. Most Swans discographies that I've seen online seem to give the tracklisting of the original CD.

Here's what Swans looked like around this time. (45Mb Windows Media file, probably only available here for a day or two, totally worth watching!)

I like the fact that they almost come across as goofy...there's none of the choreographed theatrics that you get from later noise merchants. It lends a certain honesty to the group's efforts. In the "2000" version of this, Gira would be cut up like a body builder and there'd be strobe lights and fireworks...



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