Swervedriver At The Teragram Ballroom, Sunday September 24th 2017
It’s always strange to go to a show without knowing anything about the band. It happens to me all the time, as I get to see plenty of new young bands, but when the band is a respectable one, established since the 90s, you feel a bit awkward. I had never heard of Swervedriver before Sunday night, but I got schooled with a 2 hour and half show featuring the English band’s early catalogue, as the quartet played their two first albums, ‘Raise’ and ‘Mezcal Head’, in their entirety.
Their sound was heavy and loud with a thick wall of fuzzy guitar trying to wrap Adam Franklin’s morose tone. As a singer, he had the total non expressiveness of a J Mascis, while the squall of guitars was not without relationship with the work of Dinosaur Jr or even Sonic Youth. Swervedriver plays in the shoegaze department, the four members don’t move much, and there was nothing even close to a stage antic during the show, while the singing tone never really modulated, but their rock sound was constantly propelled by the harsh beating of the drums, their loud guitars and their rows of pedals. But there is another thing, despite all these pedals, their songs never ventured into noise, rather they stayed focus on an explosive and almost mournful rock sound.
Not knowing about the band at all has its advantage, there is no preconceived idea, but it is also difficult to immediately assimilate a band like Swervedrver, as each song seemed to morph into the next one with the same fuzzy texture and not much variation to my inexperienced ear. However, I immediately got a North Pacific vibe, which is weird considering they are from Oxford, England, but not that surprising after all, there was this same melancholia surging through fuzz, loudness and sonic power, and if I am not close to remember any of the melodies of the songs, these were piercing through the fog and the roar of the guitars.
Swervedriver, like many bands which have been around for decades, called it quit in 1998 after releasing 4 albums, and reunited a decade alter and even released new music 17 years after their last effort. However, on Sunday, the night was all about their old stuff, songs from their two first album ‘Raise’ and ‘Mezcal Head’, that diehard fans, packed in the front rows, were lip synching along.
I am not sure what I expected before going to see them, the music, with its rock sound was still very atmospheric, reminded me about a few bands, from Dinosaur Jr to Build to Spill, while I was trying to find Swervedriver’s true identity. And despite their barrages of guitar effects and their loudness, the originality of their sound was not easy to figure out at the first listening, and in a concert setting. Although they emerge in the 90s, Swervedriver don’t have the pop culture identity of other bands, I keep reading pieces mentioning other contemporary bands such as My Bloody Valentine or Ride, but with their plain appearance of trucker hat and kakis, Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge have always been far less visible… Without the catchiness of Nirvana or the ethereal loudness of My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver had surging guitar playing long songs with sparse melancholic vocals but an identity which often seemed to disappear behind their rows of pedal, and after 2 hours and half gig, I still don’t know where Swervedriver’s place is among the musical landscape of the 90s,
“Son of Mustang Ford”
“Feel So Real”
“Lead Me Where You Dare…”
“For Seeking Heat”
“Last Train to Satansville”
“Harry & Maggie”
“A Change Is Gonna Come”
“Girl on a Motorbike”
“You Find It Everywhere”
“Never Lose That Feeling/Never Learn”
Jesus (Velvet Underground cover)