By Allyson Bills
If you were looking for a night to re-live the 90s shoe gaze scene, then Wednesday night’s Swervedriver show at Valley Bar in Phoenix was the place to be. A sparse, but healthy, mostly older crowd came to watch the Oxford, England quartet do their thing. Wednesday night was the first time that Swervedriver (not counting Franklin’s later solo shows) played Phoenix since the late 90‘s when they played the Mason Jar (now The Rebel Lounge).
The show itself, as well as the audience was low-key. This was evident when the band quietly took the stage at 9:45 p.m., dressed in all black, and playing straight into “Autodidact,” the first track off the their new album, I Wasn’t Born to Lose You. Apparently, I didn’t get wearing black memo that night because I eschewed my usual uniform (wearing black 24/7) for a flower dress from Forever 21 and Toms galaxy shoes. I was bold on Hump Day, and probably more so everyone there, and I was working. However, this didn’t matter because it was too dark to see what anyone was wearing anyway.
The lights became inordinately dim on the second song of Swervedriver’s set, “For Seeking Heat” off Mezcal Head with a very nice breakdown mid-song from both vocalist/guitarist Adam Franklin and guitarist Jimmy Hartridge. This song also enticed some head banging among the crowd. After the song ended, Franklin in his heavy British accent, which was difficult to understand at times, advised the crowd not to take flash photography as it “looks shit.” The audience obliged throughout the night. This was an attentive crowd and they weren’t there to immediately document their experience on social media. The friends of mine in attendance did post pictures to their Facebook pages long after the show ended.
Swervedriver played a mix of song off all their four albums, especially a slew of older songs. “Never Lose That Feeling,” off Mezcal Head, a song with a stagnant melody of guitars from Franklin and Hartridge that drew a nice reception from the crowd at the end. “Rave Down,” from their 1991 debut album Raise, was a mid-tempo song with a long guitar interlude from Franklin and Hartridge. “Son of of Mustang Ford,” also from Raise, was one of Swervedriver’s heaviest songs in their set that enticed dancing from the often-focused crowd. Perhaps the largest reception from the crowd (other than the encore) came from “MM Abduction,” which highlighted the rhythm section of drummer Mikey Jones and touring bassist Paul Dillon (ex- Mercury Rev and Sparklehorse).
The new material from I Wasn’t Born to Lose You also held up live, despite the crowd not reciprocating to the extent they were to their older material. From what I viewed, the crowd was intense and not distracting the band and others around them, but still trying to process Swervedriver’s new songs in a live setting. “Last Rites,” the second track off this album, despite a mistake from Franklin at the beginning of the song, was one of their strongest songs of the night with a quasi drum solo from Jones. “Setting Sun,” one of Swervedriver’s shorter songs, featured excellent guitar parts from Franklin and Hartridge. “Lone Star,” a personal favorite from this album was more electric live than on the album. The energy created from this song woke up the crowd. I don’t know how this song wouldn’t give anyone a jolt, especially with the hard-drumming from Jones.
Swervedriver ended their initial set with “I Wonder,” which is coincidentally the last song off I Wasn’t Born to Lose You. This track was a slow, atmospheric track with heavy drums with buildup at the end. It was a fitting song to which the end the set.
After about five minutes or so, Swervedriver came back onstage to do a two-song encore to the delight of the crowd. Apparently, this was the encore, especially for two fans, they were waiting for the entire night judging from their dancing and singing along. Swervedriver chose the encore portion of the set to play their two most-recognized songs, “Last Train to Satansville” and “Duel,” both from Mezcal Head. After Franklin below out a guitar between songs, Swervedriver played a prolonged version of “Duel.” The same two guys that I previously mentioned waited for “Duel” as their lives depended on it. They were going so hard like it was no tomorrow. Franklin’s lyrics, “You’ve been away so long” was mutually felt with the crowd because at the end of the hour-plus set, the crowd screamed “we love you.” Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, which is this show.
Franklin barely spoke that night, except to thank the crowd and to wish bassist Steve Jones, who was on leave due his child being born, a happy birthday. The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Jones in his spirit. It’s always nice to share a personal moment with the band in a public setting.
Swervedriver’s chemistry was on that night, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves on-stage. The fans, although they appeared to be subdued on the surface, really were enjoying themselves. They were focused on the music and being in the moment. I actually only saw a few people throughout the show take out their phones. A friend of mine told me after just seeing Swervedriver for the first time that they exceeded his expectations. Personally, it was my first time seeing Swervedriver, and hopefully it won’t be my last. After tonight, Swervedriver showed why the 90s will never be forgotten.