Swervedriver at the Echoplex

SWERVEDRIVER at The Echoplex, June 19, 2011

Swervedriver wrapped up their extended weekend of four dates in North America by performing at the Echoplex, the venue below The Echo, overlooking downtown Los Angeles. It didn’t help draw an audience that the show was on Father’s Day, and a Sunday as well, but those that did attend were made up of diehard fans from the Oxford quartet’s heyday in the 1990’s plus a few that were too young at the time and probably learned of the band from their older siblings or even parents, perhaps a cool uncle. I have my hopes that I can introduce my own nephews to such cool music!

Soon after 9pm Adam Franklin, Steve George and Jimmy Hartridge stepped on stage, backed by Bolts of Melody drummer Mikey Jones, filling in for Graham Bonnar who couldn’t make this short Stateside run.

The band tore into Last Train to Satansville, missing a few lyrics Franklin abused his guitar with even more passion and it was all beautiful noise to our ears. The band then treated us to a rousing rendition of Out, a song only available on the Sandblasted EP, a wonderful and driving tune with a singalong chorus.

The Birds showed the band has a very pop side, Franklin’s lyrics “Saturday’s nation is rife with anticipation/ Of the ticket that buys you out of the real world” could easily apply to the rapt fans singing along as his and Hartridge’s melodic and nostalgic guitars jingled and jangled.

The audience screamed the loudest at the opening peals of Duel, many fans’ intro to the band. Franklin’s voice cool and menacing, the guitars overdriven like the revving V-8 engine of a muscle car. Deep Seat focused on delicious guitar tones and textures, Jones steady on the drums as Hartridge and Franklin wove their six-strings together in a mesmerizing dance of whammy bar’ed power chords and spacey fills.

In My Time was the sole nod to fourth album 99th Dream; Steve George and Jones crafting a captivating rhythm for Franklin and Hartridge to dance over with their druggy guitars. Pile-Up was another welcome deep cut from Raise, encapsulating youth and the open road ahead, full of guitar fireworks.

One of the most ecstatic moments was the breakdown in the middle third of Sunset, just sweating it out on the floor with the band in full swing. Keeping up the positive tones Feel So Real is just pure pop, Franklin singing “When it seems so good/ I can hardly believe she’s true” then pulling some strange but wonderful sounds out of his guitar.

Rave Down is straight up muscle, a powerful beat, rumbling bass, Franklin growling “Deep hot sun burns through the city/ Yeah, they’re having to peel/ The pedestrians off the walls” while he and Hartridge wash our ears with squeals and distortion. Son of Mustang Ford is punk rock with layered guitar slashes and jabs, George roaring bass vibrations and Jones pounding a berserk rhythm into our heads.

For their encore Swervedriver returned with Hartridge and Franklin diving into the guitar heroics of Sci-Flyer; Jones’ crashing cymbals flying around the room. The audience sang along to a tale of a nighttime alien encounter, humorous as the alien asks how can you love one who only has “two arms and one smile“. More expressionist was Girl on a Motorbike with strange lyrics, woozy verses and a rocking chorus.

The show wrapped up with a spirited rendition of Duress, Franklin slowly building guitar lines out into the air, then bending the strings until they sang out in soulful protest. The fans closed their eyes and bathed their ears in glorious guitar magic.

Swervedriver presented their fans with songs from all four of their albums with a couple of surprises, focusing their performance on music rather than posing and between song banter. Our ears ringing and our hearts beating hard we wandered out into the Los Angeles night, hoping it’s not another three year wait until Swervedriver come to our shores once again.

(Review and Photos by Bret Miller)

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