TVD Live: Swervedriver Returns to Los Angeles

We were lucky to catch British guitar heroes Swervedriver during their Los Angeles stop at the Echoplex in Echo Park., one of four exclusive shows the band performed in the States last week.

The Black Watch opened with a gently hypnotic set of psychedelic pop jangle, whetting our appetite for more unhinged sonic explorations. This preceded a lengthy but somehow appropriate DJ set that bobbed and weaved between 60s pop and 80s post-punk. We had never noticed how much Swervedriver borrowed from Public Image Ltd.’s namesake tune “Public Image” until this evening.

Finally Swervedriver hit the stage with “Last Train to Satansville,” a roaring classic that married guitar feedback to a locomotive beat. They had been unable to play the song during their previous visit, when their encore was cut for time, so it was an appropriate way to kick things off. Vocal monitor difficulties prevented singer Adam Franklin from fully delivering on the dark balladry of the lyrics, but the band played on much like a runaway train.

This set the tone for the evening, as Swervedriver plowed through a collection of some of their most complex music. Obscurities like “Out” blended nicely with fan favorites “Girl on a Motorbike” and “Sandblasted.”

The small tour coincided with the re-release on vinyl of the first two Swervedriver LPs, Raise and Mezcal Head (both albums were previously reissued on CD). It is also the 20th anniversary of Raise, which may have been one reason why the band reunited with their original drummer Graham Bonner (who played on Raise and several EPs leading up to its release) for a series of dates in Australia earlier in the year.

Bonner was scheduled to play the four U.S. dates as well, but had to cancel at the last minute. Mikey Jones, who normally plays with Adam Franklin’s band Bolts of Melody, did an admirable job of filling in. The set list seemed to favor material that Bonner originally played on, so Jones had his work cut out for him. Raise is filled with time changes, breakdowns, and lots of really fast beats – not an easy thing for any drummer to master in a few days.

Overall, it was a raw and intimate show in comparison to the group’s previous visit to L.A., when they performed at the Henry Fonda Theater in 2008. That show had marked the band’s triumphant return after a ten-year hiatus, and brought some much-deserved hype along with it. This time out, the stage was smaller, and expectations may not have been as high. Swervedriver still managed to display the jaw-dropping combination of melody, noise, and musical dexterity that makes them one of the greatest surviving bands of the 90s alt-rock gold rush.

(Photo by Cecy Orvis)


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