As you’ve probably noticed, lately I’ve been seeing a fair amount of shows out of town. Call it wanderlust, call it spring fever, call it my favorite bands playing Chicago instead of St. Louis. But more often than not, my road trips to see live music involve the pursuit of a specific feeling, an amorphous but profound rush of energy and emotion I can’t get from anything else.
After trips to Kansas City and Chicago in the last week, I was iffy about trekking up to Chi-town again to see Swervedriver (due to fatigue, not desire). Fronted by vocalist/guitarist Adam Franklin, the U.K. group never grew beyond a cult following here in the ‘90s, despite releasing three solid, influential albums domestically (1995’s Ejector Seat Reservation didn’t come out here) and touring with Smashing Pumpkins, Hum and Soundgarden. Swervedriver’s sound is comparable to those bands, along with the Stooges, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. – albeit with a decidedly British-rock/vaguely-shoegaze bent.
(photo of Swervedriver by Will Jones)
The high-profile return of My Bloody Valentine, a band comparable in volume and pedal-effects, arguably overshadowed Swervedriver’s 2008 reunion (although that feels entirely appropriate, in light of its underdog reputation). The added hint that this return is temporary -- Franklin has a fantastic new project called Magnetic Morning with Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino, to go along with his solo career -- put me over the edge in favor of trekking up I-55 on Saturday afternoon.
And good Lord, I’m so glad I went. The 90-minute set was a sonic assault, so intense and interlocked that (cliché alert!) it felt like Swervedriver had never been away.
"Sci-Flyer," live in San Francisco:
Franklin utilized a sea of effects pedals, creating solar-flare distortion and burnt-sugar riffs; highlights included Raise’s “Sci-Flyer” and the title track from 99th Dream. Drummer Jez Hindmarsh anchored the set with martial drumming, while bassist Steve George and guitarist Jimmy Hartridge flanked Franklin, unleashing their parts like the rock gods they always should have been.
(Adam Franklin, by Will Jones)
“Rave Down” stretched out and wound around itself like a big wad of taffy being pulled. The rumbling, gorilla-footstep “Duel” caused the crowd to freak out even more -- an amazing feat, since the crowd pretty much started jumping around, sorta-moshing and pumping fists from the second the band came onstage -- and segued right into “Blowin’ Cool,” the closest thing Swervedriver has to a pop song. The encore began with a throttling, building “Never Lose That Feeling,” which caused me to lose my shit.
The band barely spoke, but looked humbled, proud and a bit stunned by the fervent audience reception. And really, I can only describe the aftermath with thought fragments and flashbulb descriptions. Hurtling back into the atmosphere from space, while feeling the full force of gravity. Orbiting close to the sun, feeling the star’s searing heat on your face. A roller coaster speeding through tight curves and impossibly high hills. And the text I sent a friend after the gig: “Holy shit.”
"Rave Down," live in Hollywood:
Openers saddled with the task of warming up for Swervedriver included Kansas City’s The Life and Times, which features Collinsville native/Ring, Cicada member Eric Abert. The trio continues to impress the longer it’s together, grafting nuanced bits of drone-rock and noise-gaze into its Midwest post-rock. A stark, black-and-white light show underscored new songs slated for an upcoming record, which is due later this year.
Terra Diablo, the young Scots who played a last-minute show at the Bluebird last year, impressed as well with tunes from their second album. Summed up basically as Oasis meets Swervedriver, the quartet demonstrated its power with a swirling, heavily psychedelic version of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows."