Jarboe, Budapest Vörös Yuk, 8 June 2009

Since Jarboe’s planned concert in Vienna was cancelled in murky circumstances, it was a no-brainer for me to make the trip to the nearest place she was playing, which turned out to be Budapest. This is no trainspotters’ blog, but I do feel obliged to mention the excellent ÖBB Railjet service which whisked me from Westbahnhof to Budapest in exactly three hours, in remarkable comfort and to-the-minute punctuality. British trains, I do not miss you at all.

I wrote a short reminiscence of Swans under the guise of a review of Michael Gira’s concert in Vienna last November, which touched on the kindness and generosity Jarboe showed me in the early days of my friendship with her. Ironically, while Gira has for the most part opened up his muse to softer and more acoustic elements since ending Swans, Jarboe’s own post-Swans work has recently been heading in the other direction, towards the theatricality and brute force of black metal. But this really shouldn’t be seen as too much of a surprise. Intensely aware of gods, demons and other spectral presences, Jarboe’s music has always revolved around the kind of incantatory invocations that the BM scene also relishes.

What makes Jarboe extraordinary, though, is the sense of humility and abasement that she brings to her on-stage persona. For at least half of this concert, she came down from the stage and sang while standing amongst the (almost exclusively male) audience, her long blonde hair shrouding her face, her voice howling and trembling in supplication. This was no mere theatrical diversion, but a deliberate strategy on Jarboe’s part to place herself in a position of utter abjection. The resulting cauldron of lamentation was both sexually charged and unbearably moving.

Jarboe’s songs are protean; they refuse to take on the properties of songs, sounding instead like hectoring blasts of black energy. The guitar, bass and drums pulsate menacingly, as though calling up apparitions given voice by Jarboe’s sepulchral keening. The performance resonates with an elegiac, mystical beauty.

Michael Gira has indicated that he may resurrect the Swans name for a new album and tour, a move which (needless to say) I would wholeheartedly welcome. Jarboe, sadly, is unlikely to be a part of any such endeavour; but on the evidence of this show, Gira will have to go some to match the level of draining intensity reached by his erstwhile bandmate.

2 thoughts on “Jarboe, Budapest Vörös Yuk, 8 June 2009

  1. Hi, there. I just returned from the Marseille show @ L’Embombineuse. It was a disaster but Jarboe and the whole band coped through the whole gig with profesionalism (even when they tossed that drunk m@therfooker out of stage). The place sucked and so the local sound technicians. Anyway, I enjoyed it as much as I could – the place was practically empty so I had Jarboe performing / transcending right in front of me in what could be described as a private show. I specially enjoyed the part where Jarboe was sitting among the audience (all 45 of us) when the show was about to begin and nobody had a clue they were standing next to her – gazing at the stage, waiting for her to pop up from backstage. I think a lot of people were ignorant about Jarboe’s music and she could tell. After a few songs she decided to f@ck with their minds and went off stage blending again with the crowd, dancing in front of them and totally embarrassing them. Anyway, I was hoping whether you could send me/publish the setlist as I didn’t recognize some of the tracks.

    Best regards, Dimitris

  2. Hi Dimitris, sounds like a strange but interesting evening. Sorry but I don’t know the setlist either, although a lot of the songs would have come from her new album Mahakali.

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