Scala, London, 27/4/2015
published: 22 /
Dominic Simpson watches reformed 1990's shoegazing icons Swervedriver, out on the road to promote their first album in seventeen years 'I Wasn't Born to Lose You', play a superb show at the Scala in London
It's incredible to think that Swervedriver have been around for nearly thirty years now in various guises. The Oxford-based quintet began in the mid-80s as Shake Appeal, an obvious nod to Iggy & The Stooges and their huge influence on independent guitar music. At that time, the Scala was a cult cinema venue and Britpop was still a couple of years away. That wave of late 80's guitar bands, loosely dubbed 'shoegazing', are back in the fold this year, with reformations by Slowdive, Ride, My Bloody Valentine (all of whom were on Creation Records, then at its peak), and others from the era, some twenty years after they all split, often in acrimonious circumstances.
Emerging from the ashes of Shake Appeal, the central duo of Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge have remained the heart of Swervedriver as a number of bassists and drummers have taken their place in the band. Swervedriver always had a heavier, riff-based element to many of those bands, apparent in tonight's concert (though they're not as loud as Dearly Beloved, the deafening Canadian support act). Dreadlocked, and with songs about driving, Swervedriver shared a common bond with Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth as much as with their British Thames Valley contemporaries.
Indeed, their slant to America is made explicit in the introductory music before they come on-stage at the Scala: The Velvet Underground's 'All Tomorrow's Parties', one of the first bands to use dissonance and distortion in popular music. Backed up by Supergrass' Mick Quinn on bass (their normal four-string accomplice unavailable this evening), the band launch into 'Autodidact', the scene-setting opener to their new album 'I Wasn't Born To Lose You'. It's a superb way to start the set; melodic chiming guitars matched to fuzz and singer Adam Franklin's lyrics floating by about “gas stations as churches.” Meanwhile, 'For A Day Like Tomorrow', the new album's highlight, is aired in all its soaring glory.
But it's the old songs that really pack a punch, such as 'Rave Down', the widescreen early 90's track that perfectly conjures images of small town America, canyons, lonely gas stations, and the wide open road. 'Son of Mustang Ford' too, and 'Never Lose That Feeling' (the latter minus the sax-dominated extended meltdown version on record) still sound great, with their swirling guitars and soaring choruses.
And while its the old classic 'Duel' (from the 'Mezcal Head' album) that gets the biggest roar during the encore, it's a spellbinding rendition of 'I Wonder' from the new album that's the most affecting moment of the night; “take care in what you do”, Franklin intones to a backdrop of charming harmonics, the music swirling around him, heavier and heavier, the pounding Tom Toms bringing to mind Moe Tucker from the very same Velvet Underground that the band referenced at the beginning of their set. Here's to another thirty years of Swervedriver.