Bowery Ballroom, New York, March 31
by Stephen Slaybaugh

The news of Swervedriver’s reunion in 2008 may not have lit up the blogosphere the way the reconvening of some of their one-time contemporaries did, but for those of us who had appreciated the band during their time, it sent off seismic sparks in the imagination. With the band’s records mostly out-of-print since Swervedriver’s demise—some had even gone out of circulation while the group was still active—their stature had never ballooned the way that of others of their era had. But if you had ever had your lid blown by such records as their 1991 debut, Raise, or its successor, 1993’s Mezcal Head (both thankfully back in print now), this information could not have been more welcome if it had been anyone else.

The Swervies hit the States in 2008 and 2011, but circumstances prevented me from attending those shows. So this past Friday’s gig marked the first time I had seen the band since its reformation and nearly 14 years since the last Swervedriver performance I had witnessed. (Back then an up-and-coming band named Spoon was the opener.) As in 2011, the band consisted of the core of guitarist Jimmy Hartridge and singer and guitarist Adam Franklin, along with bassist Steve George, who was with the band for six of its ten years, and drummer Mikey Jones, who plays in Franklin’s Bolts of Melody and tonight’s opener, Heaven, filling in for Graham Bonnar, the band’s first drummer who has been playing with them in Europe.

Swervedriver took the stage and launched into Mezcal Head’s “Last Train to Satansville.” Before too long the sonic sparks were flying off of Hartridge and Franklin’s guitars. A couple lesser known cuts from the same EP, “Scrawl and Scream” and “Never Lose That Feeling,” followed, the spacious sound of the latter opening up the show to any and all possibilities. A few punters shouted for the sound to be louder, and I wouldn’t have minded more volume, but it wasn’t required for this performance. The band seemed to be markedly in control of every noise they made, making a mountain of sound not as necessary. Even “Pile Up,” the first song from Raise they played, didn’t suffer for its clarity.

Nevertheless, the show seemed to build as it progressed, with a ear-ringing take on “Deep Seat” segueing into “Deep Wound,” the band’s new song (a new album is reportedly in the works), and a reverberating take on Guided By Voices’ “Motor Away.” After a shimmery run through “Son of Jaguar ‘E’,” the band’s paean to a drug-fueled romance from Ejector Seat Reservation, and the mix of beauty and vitriol that is 99th Dream’s “Wrong Treats,” it was all Raise, climaxing with devastating runs through “Son of Mustang Ford” and “Rave Down.” Franklin must have cut his finger at some point, because by the set’s end his Jazzmaster was splattered in blood. He seemed oblivious, though, caught up in the upsweep of his output.

For their encore, the Swervies went back to Mezcal Head, first with “Girl on a Motorbike.” “Cars Converge on Paris,” a B-side from the time, proved to be one of the most ambient moments of the night, the band creating an audial fog almost thick enough to be visible. But “Duel,” which finished the night, mixed all that was best about the previous 17 songs, combining a shroud of guitar sounds with pop hooks and roaring force. Still, it was just one of many instants of sonic transcendence, the kind of moments you never want to end.