Swervedriver / Six By Seven

The Scala, London on Tue 16th Sep 2008

Swervedriver are one of the long-lost shoegazing bands, without the acclaim of MBV nor the whimsy of Slowdive, but proper heads-down noise merchants whose vocals were fashionably low in the mix in 1991. They were probably grunge in reality, but came from the wrong place at the wrong time. Genres aside, they still sound great on tape. Tonight was their first reunion gig in the UK in well over a decade, plus a chance for me to finally catch them live.

But first some peripheries. Pushing half-an-hour to queue to get into the venue, to collect pre-booked tickets? Taking so long that people in the queue were seen to nip to the local off-license across the road and leisurely drink their purchases? It was made more interesting by bumping into someone I'd not seen since the height of Scene-That-Celebrates-Itselfdom, and by realizing that the majority of punters were clearly thirtysomethings intent on reliving years gone by. But nonetheless Scala, what was the hold-up? We therefore caught just the last five minutes of Six By Seven, a band on the edge of my consciousness. Most impressive they were though, in holding a fine drone sound for their last song, having a lead man who could chat to the crowd, and then collectively playing a cheeky 'A' note (apparently) for the final 30 seconds of their short set. Worth investigating.

Swervedriver were noteworthy in the 90s music press not least for lead singer/guitarist Adam Franklin's distinctive dreadlocks that were generally caught in full flow within gig photos. Alas like oneself, the hair is now short and galloping back across the forehead, but with beard he at least looks tonight like Mark Eitzel (another alt-rock figure of the early 90s). No hiding behind fringes for the vocals then. Pity the drums lacked a wig, for they were by far the noisiest component of the music tonight. The relentless thud was sometimes matched in intensity by the wah-wah effects of the lead guitar.

However rhythm guitar and bass were too often too low in the mix to be heard without straining, for instance on 'Last Train to Satansville'. Additionally far too many of the songs played tonight sounded discordant or bland. In many cases, they would play a number of bars before I reached a sudden 'Aha!' moment of realization that it was this or that song that the noise was loosely interpreting. Like one of their songs says, 'You Shouldn't Feel This Way'.

The favourites are played, but generally towards the end. For the first six or so songs, including 'A Change Is Gonna Come', about a third of the packed crowd applauded heartily between songs, another third politely, and the last third played with their phones. Seriously, a few did take photos, but there seemed to be many texters, and the bloke in a white vest to my right played backgammon! We were treated to 'Rave Down' eventually, and for once the instruments on stage did rather merge to equal the sum of their parts, but other songs such as 'Duel' lacked the cohesion to sound right to this reviewer stood just in front of the sound desk.

It didn't help that Adam is a man of few words on stage, albeit with the odd guitar-hero pose, and in fairness his pyrotechnics with the guitar did conform to the riffs and impact of the recorded songs. It's just that the whole lot together came across so poorly too often overall. Alas to anyone who didn't already know how the songs and tunes went.

After a drawn-out set closer that I think was 'Duress', they encored with a passable 'Never Lose That Feeling'. It's another great track worthy of the 'English-Nirvana' tag that they were occasionally dubbed with, but live it came across as far too tinny. It curiously also had a vocal chorus that sounded an octave higher then the recorded version. A further encore song was presumably off the latter, mid-90s albums that I never got round to. It rumbled along to the clear delight of those reminiscing and bouncing down the front, but we left at that point, disappointed that the live take after this long paled so insignificantly against the splendour of the recorded music.

I'm surprised to find that Swervedriver have more listeners on a popular internet music website than MBV. Presumably their vast American tour is paying dividends. However, with just one other UK show to come, I can imagine many a UK fan wanting to be at these shows but being unable to balance the distance to travel or the midweek nature of things. As a fan myself, I can tell others not to be hard on themselves if they didn't make it, for the live music tonight was far short of what you have on record or as memories. Treasure what you have.

article by: Clive Heidrich

published: 17/09/2008 11:59


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