Angels of Light at Iota, Arlington, VA, Tuesday 17 May 2005
Singer Michael Gira is best known for his band Swans, which layered dark and depressing lyrics over noisy music slowed to a crawl. After Swans broke up almost a decade ago, Gira embarked on a solo career under the name Angels of Light, and while his lyrics haven't gotten much cheerier, his music certainly has. Tuesday night at Iota, he was backed by an energetic four-piece band called Akron/Family, which preceded its Angels of Light set with a rowdy opening set of its own. Akron/Family's initial set featured all four musicians singing together on almost every song, often as in tune as a fraternity on a drunken night.
The band's raucousness was more subdued behind Gira: The backing vocals offset the harshness of his voice, which bore the gruffness of Leonard Cohen's sing-speak. Together, the five musicians chanted and repeated phrases, which escalated from "hunt him down" to "kill that man" on the entrancing "My Sister Said." At times, the group's collaboration was as straightforward as a campfire singalong, as on a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Pity the Poor Immigrant."
Gira still maintained an air of weirdness, as he spit out nonsense syllables like a scat above Akron's soft-backing moans on "New York Girls" -- in the middle of which he stood up and shook his posterior at the audience as he strummed his acoustic guitar. Much calmer by the end of the night, Gira closed his set with a nod to his history with a stirring solo-acoustic version of Swans' "Blind."
-- Catherine P. Lewis
.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 19 May 2005