April 8, 2012

That Was The Show That Was: Swervedriver | Doug Fir | Portland, OR | 4.5.12

[Swervdriver at the Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR, 4/5/2012. Photos by Edward Charlton]

Thursday night saw the arrival of reunited shoegaze titans Swervedriver in Portland, Oregon at the immaculate Doug Fir Lounge. The band was met with a rapturous audience of hardcore fans who stood in awe to the muscled, blissed-out swirl unleashed, as the band played favorites from their solid '90s discography. The night was made special by the fact that the group were unencumbered with the tedium of converting new listeners -- it was just time to celebrate.

The Portland stop was one in a recent string of U.S. dates, part of a reunion that has been going strong since 2008 when Swervedriver came together again following their initial 1989-1999 run. Debuting on the infamous Creation Records with the "Sun Of Mustang Ford" single, the band launched into the '90s with the highly acclaimed albums; Raise and Mezcal Head. These established their sound -- heady and pounding distorted rock that seamlessly blended the band's love of muscle car culture with washes of effects paired with leader Adam Franklin's smooth, cool vocal work. Like many bands of this era, the group signed a major label deal during the grunge explosion and nearly became a household name (on the strength of singles like "Duel" and "Last Train To Satansville"). While the mainstream recognition they deserved mostly eluded them, the group cultivated a loyal college-based audience that has stuck with them to this day. Following a string of quality albums throughout the decade (along with label and distribution problems along the way), Swervedriver cemented itself as one of the more lauded bands to emerge from the original shoegaze/alternative era.

As the packed crowd awaited the arrival of the band on stage, numerous guitar-techs and sound men arranged the Swervedriver arsenal of Marshall stacks (R.I.P.) and long chains of pedals that circled around in a bleeping, colorful array; it was apparent that a serious guitar band was about to hit. The Doug Fir was a perfect venue for this sort of thing, dark and stylish, and designed to look like a "Twin Peaks"-styled bachelor pad: the walls lined with actual tree trunks, neon lights built into the floor and a classy, smokey, mirrored bar. Everything was ready.

As the heroes entered stage, the room erupted, many began yelling song titles before the act even picked up its instruments. Guitarists Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge, along with bassist Steve George and stand-in drummer Mikey Jones ripped into "Sci-flyer" after a simple hello. What followed was a strong set balanced with a number of deeper cuts. For the first few songs, Mr. Franklin's leads were mired in effects pedal problems. This was unfortunate, as it diminished the impact of some of the best songs, including the dark and mysterious "Scrawl and Scream." Making up for this was Mr. George's thick, heavy bass. Anchored with deep, low notes, his playing really brought the heaviness the band is known for, and his playing absolutely punished his battered black Fender Jazz. After a few words with a tech, the visibly upset Franklin finally remedied his technical issues, resulting in a fuzzy punch that made the following "Never Lose That Feeling" the highlight of the night. The sudden improved fidelity drove the crowd nuts. One younger, boyish member of the crowd quite amusingly went ape as Franklin hit pedals that made all sorts of wild whooshing sounds. With an impossibly big grin on his face, the fan began dancing as if someone had set fire to his feet. Franklin periodically muttered thanks in a grumbly, heavy accent that was surprising to be heard right after his very clear American-sounding singing voice.

Upon hitting high gear, the band tore through a set spanning its entire career, including a new track, "Deep Wound." It fit in perfectly with the older tunes, it may as well have been from an obscure Creation single a decade earlier. Other highlights included an amazing, loud cover of Guided By Voices' "Motor Away" and, of course, the surfy twang of "Last Train To Satansville." They ended their set with the song that began their career, "Son Of A Mustang Ford." With that, they quickly said goodbye to their rabid following, assured that their would be more times to come for a band that has finally seen a decade of hard work pay off.

Opening for Swervedriver were Portland-based Hawkeye. The band, boasting five guitarists and a tambourine girl, was a strong, albeit somewhat unoriginal, '60s psych-revival group in the vein of other Northwest proponents of that druggedly-strummed sound, such as The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Portland has always been a very enthusiastic audience for these kind of group, and the crowd enjoyed their heavy set as much as they did that of the headliners. --Edward Charlton

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1 comment:

joe ryckebosch said...

I was at this show. Right up front. It was great, though I think it would have sounded even better if I stood more in the center of the room. I could not believe how loud Swervedriver's stage volume was! Incredible. This was my sixth time seeing the Swervies live, and I never had before heard the raw crackle and pure power of their songs so clearly. It was an amazing show. I was happily surprised to hear "scrawl and scream". I'd never heard them play that song live before. The show was simply a HUGE treat for any Swervedriver fan. Swervedriver, Ride, MBV, Pale Saints and Chapterhouse - my all time top 5 early '90s UK bands, and to get to see just one of them (Swervies) play live again is completely insane. I loved it.