To paraphrase Swervedriver’s song, “Duel,” they’ve been away for so long.
Although the only remaining member of the original line-up is lead rhythm guitarist Adam Franklin, the British band was always Franklin’s show anyway, and he provided ample demonstration of the how and why in the environs of the black cavern under Chicago’s el tracks known as Bottom Lounge on Tuesday night.
While it’s always been his guitar work that has propelled the group and made its sound (relatively) unique, it’s clear live exactly what sets his technique apart and provides the group’s theoretically spare sound with a unique texture. Franklin plays rhythm guitar like a lead guitar, and the “de facto” lead guitarist is ancillary at best. In fact, the nominal “lead” guitar seemed downright plinky when offset with Franklin’s muscular riffage, with the occasional jazzy groove thrown in for good measure.
Although they weren’t dressed as flamboyantly (indeed, except for the drummer’s black tank top, these Brits were clad in jeans and T-shirts, Franklin’s with a large picture of a fly that said “Fly” on it), appearance-wise, Swervedriver at this juncture was reminiscent of Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem from “The Muppet Show,” if one can imagine the bassist and guitarist as clones of Beaker, Franklin as Dr. Teeth, and the drummer not so much Animal, more Watto from the Star Wars prequels. Having said that, he drummed like Animal, and although he was laser-focused on Franklin throughout, his rhythms could be at times subtly jazzy or rollickingly rocking, and his head seemed to move independently from the rest of his body, which was an odd effect to watch.
On the set’s opener “Sci-Flyer,” the prodigious and prolific use of Franklin’s whammy bar on his well-worn Fender gave the sound the swerve that the audience packed in to hear. On “Scrawl” and “Never Lose That Feeling,” and here and there throughout the set, the bassist provided backing vocals to accentuate Franklin’s reverb-heavy tenor. Before launching into “Out” Franklin even threw in a few notes used to communicate with the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Franklin’s not the “lead guitarist,” he’s more the “riffer in chief.” On a new song, “Deep Wound,” which they debuted in a web-only performance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” there was a certain sonic similarity to fellow countrymen (and sonic swizzle stick stirrers Ride). “These Times” was leisurely but produced a minimal drone.
Swervedriver has never been herky-jerky band like a runaway VW Bug zipping down San Francisco’s Lombard Street, their sound is more akin to an all night race along Germany’s Autobahn, or even 24 hours of LeMans, and they’ve worn their love of all things automotive on their sleeve since their original single, “Son Of Mustang Ford.” On this night, that even extended to their choice of covers, galloping through a rendition of the Guided By Voices “hit,” “Motor Away,” which, although relatively faithful to the original, was illuminating in differentiating the composition technique from Swervedriver’s raison d’être. Not only was it relatively brief (and fun in a painless way), but the usual modus operandi for the band is to let the riffs groove and grow, and this was over in a heartbeat.
Following that, they reverted to their back catalogue, with “Son of Jaguar E” from Ejector Seat Reservation. “Wrong Treats” followed, then “Sandblasted” from their debut, Raise and Mezcal Head‘s “Last Train To Satansville.” The group ended their set with a rocking version of “Son Of Mustang Ford” and “Rave Down,” both from their debut, then returned for a three-song encore that culminated with “Duel.”
The unfortunately named Heaven, a trio from New York City, began the night by mining a minimalist drone that took a while to get engaging from a melody/hook perspective, but they crafted an engaging groove nonetheless.
Their first few numbers blended together in such a way that the crowd wasn’t sure when to express their palpable appreciation. Heaven’s two-part harmonies and influences drawn from 1980s’ drone and No Wave (a la Suicide) coalesced to somehow create a 21st century version of The Beatles’ psychedelic single “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The whole set wasn’t necessarily heavenly, but it wasn’t hellacious, and it was even better than purgatory, for the most part. Now for a better band name…
Swervedriver at Bottom Lounge on April 3, 2012 Setlist:
- “Never Lose That Feeling”
- “The Birds”
- “These Times”
- “Deep Seat”
- “Deep Wound”
- “Motor Away” (Guided by Voices cover)
- “Son of Jaguar ‘E'”
- “Wrong Treats”
- “Last Train to Satansville”
- “Son of Mustang Ford”
- “Rave Down”
- “Girl on a Motorbike”
- “Cars Converge on Paris”