March 31, 2012 in Show Reviews
An extended weekend of great Boston shows began Thursday night at Brighton with self-described “loud British band” Swervedriver. Remarkably hard-to-Google shoegazers Heaven opened.
Heaven is the New York-based project of Matt Sumrow, Ryan Lee Dunlap, and occasional Swervedriver drummer Mikey Jones. Bathed in a constant red glow throughout their half-hour set, the trio performed their dreamy and atmospherically spacey rock with coolness and reserve. The songs were driven by swirling waves of guitar backed by percussion and lingering swells of keyboards. Pretentious ocean vocabulary aside, Heaven did tend toward the lovelier dream-pop end of the shoegaze spectrum. It was enjoyable performance, and a perfect compliment to the noisier and more commanding Swervedriver set to come.
Swervedriver are among the more under-appreciated bands of the first-wave shoegaze movement of the early 1990s. Although they were the label-mates of legendary bands like My Bloody Valentine and Ride, they never received the same level of recognition. Based on the strengths of records like 1991’s Raise and 1993’s Mezcal Head, that lack of recognition is an unfortunate oversight in the alternative music canon. The band’s setlist on Thursday leaned heavily on those two records (as well as some era-appropriate b-sides and a bit of new material), and the performance proved pretty definitively that these songs have aged very well.
Accuse Swervedriver of being a nostalgia act if you must, but they certainly didn’t sound like they were going through the motions. Lead guitarist and vocalist Adam Franklin mostly played it cool, offering only the occasional “Thank you” or single-sentence song introduction to the audience, but some impassioned moments of soloing or general noise production cracked the veneer. He was definitely enjoying himself. I also have to take this opportunity to applaud him for making it through the entire second half of the show with a pretty obviously split open finger on his strumming hand. Admittedly, his blood-stained Jazzmaster did look pretty badass by the end of the set.
One of the band’s greatest virtues on record is the interplay between Franklin and second guitarist Jimmy Hartridge, which comes shining through in their live show as well. Franklin’s playing tends toward the hazy and slightly abstract, with heavy reliance on his Jazzmaster’s tremolo arm. Hartridge’s Gibson supplies the more muscular, driving riffs. Between the two of them and bassist Steve George, the ratio of effects pedals on the stage to people using them was roughly eight to one. They put their elaborate rigs to good use though. Backed by Jones on drums, the band sounded fantastic and, yes, very loud.
The band played six out of Raise‘s nine songs, as well as a few from Ejector Seat Reservation and most of the tracks from Mezcal Head which people were constantly shouting as requests. It was a crowd-pleasing setlist for sure, and the band inspired an unexpected and striking reverence from the audience. The brief periods of quiet between songs were filled not only with song requests, but also constant shouts of thanks and general admiration. Claims of the band’s ‘cult classic’ status have not been overstated. I get the feeling that a large portion of the audience would have been satisfied by the mere fact that a reunited Swervedriver had even made the effort to trek all the way from the UK to play this small run of US dates. The fact that their classic songs still sounded so good in a live setting was the icing on the cake.