SWERVEDRIVER @ THE TERAGRAM BALLROOM
Photos by Danny Hernandez Words by Ron Garmon
Once this last great U.K. shoegaze band began touring again and classic rock bands started doing entire albums live, I knew it was only a matter of time until I got to hear Mezcal Head live.
Swervedriver’s second full-length came out about a month before Nirvana’s sophomore album and, while everyone in my circle back in 1993 was digging on In Utero, I was entranced by Mezcal Head and still am. I was then in grad school and some eminent academic yotz had recently declared history to be over. In the long and piteous rear view, that era was so full of waterhead optimism that the sound of this record booming out of speakers at some now-defunct Sam Goody’s seemed like the kind of terminal wisdom gotten from watching the future burn.
An elegantly overdriven, gear-stripped feedback-blown monster of a statement about release, escape and life-altering decisions, Mezcal Head is sometimes reckoned as a late shoegaze-rock masterpiece coming just before the end of that genre and the rise of grunge. Or so critics thought back when rock music still had something like a discernible future. Post-Mezcal Head, Swervie’s own future was short. The magnificent Ejector Seat Reservation (1995) went unreleased in the U.S. after the band was dropped by A&M and the band folded in 1998 after the tour for 99th Dream. They reunited at Coachella 2008 and dropped a fifth album I Wasn’t Born to Lose You last year.
The historical value of Mezcal Head has turned out to be its summation of everything that rock music had become up to that point, but the record itself endures because the time for crunchy riffs, grand gestures, and terminal velocity is always now.
A peerless, heavily bootlegged live act since their brief turn as the Next Great U.K. Rock Band, Swervie set the bar high by serving as its own opening act, performing Raise in its entirety. While not quite the blazing juggernaut that’s Mezcal Head, the band’s 1991 debut is a scorching psychedelic ride fit to wear out any four Nineties-vintage rockers. The audience eruption at the opening of “Son of Mustang Ford” showed the near-capacity crowd was leveling up to the music and the rest of the set went over with a collective howl. Once “Lead Me Where You Dare” faded into nothingness, mainman Adam Franklin promised us another LP in fifteen minutes or so.
I took up a position at the far end of the smoker’s conclave outside and chuffed a ciggie while some respectable-looking bourgeois to my right attacked a weed-stuffed glass pipe with a will. Walking back in just in time for the exhilarating controlled violence of “For Seeking Heat,” I inched forward through the crowd as the set rocketed off like a Coupe de Ville to Mars. Mezcal Head has its own peculiar ever-ratcheting momentum that the band matched and kept. More audience shouting greeted “Blowin’ Cool” and “Last Train to Satansville,” some of the latter being my own. As they leaped into “A Change is Gonna Come,” it seemed like this performance of the record was beginning to outstrip the record itself in reckless hard-charging force. The rest of the set came as a series of brute sonic punches all the way up to “You’ll Find It Everywhere,” its final withering blast of slow-fading feedback leaving the audience pummeled. About ten percent of the crowd then lammed for the door, having gotten what they came for.