Swervedriver at Bimbo's 365, by Patric Carver
Swervedriver (photo: Patric Carver)

“Have you seen these guys before?” I asked the young woman standing next to me at the rim of the stage.

“Yeah,” she said with a sly smile, “I saw them last night, and the night before that...and I’m seeing them tomorrow night, too.”

Her name was Jestine, and, from a glance around the room, she did not appear to fit the profile for a Swervedriver fan. Female, beardless, about 10 to 20 years too young, and not wearing a stitch of plaid flannel, Jestine stuck out amongst the die-hards who were amassing by the stage nearly an hour before show time.

She explained with a yawn her travels thus far, and topped the story off with an explanation of her plans for the night. “I’m probably going to just go to the airport. My flight to Los Angeles is at 6:00 am.”

A man broke our conversation by squeezing between us to snap a picture of the effect pedals. As he sank back into the throng of people behind us, Swervedriver entered the stage and put those pedals to good use.

The last time I saw Swervedriver was two years ago at the Great American Music Hall. They played in support of their latest album, I Wasn’t Born to Lose You, with tastes of their other albums sprinkled in the set. I remember the performance as impressive – big, loud guitars and comfortably confrontational timing. I was really looking forward to this show.

This time, the set list was well-known. Their first two albums, Raise and Mezcal Head, would be played in their entirety, back-to-back. There were to be no surprises this evening. I didn’t have any expectations that they would play anything off-script.

Still, even in knowing exactly what songs would be played and having seen them tear up the crowd two years prior, the only word I can find to really describe the night is shocking.

When I was in grade school, my mother took me to the Salvador Dalí Museum in Saint Petersburg, Florida, for the first time. I was a big fan of Dalí’s; I particularly loved his masterwork "The Hallucinogenic Toreador." I’d memorized what it looked like from pictures in books and a postcard my great aunt had given me. I knew every brushstroke, but when I saw it hanging there, I was shocked. I was overcome.

When Swervedriver cut into “Sci Flyer” with this booming astral intensity, I felt that same kind of shock. Guitarist Adam Franklin played so hard that sweat flew from his hands. From his hands. I’ve seen a bad case of the nerves cause palms to weep, but I’ve never seen hands pour sweat like that from sheer physical exertion. Franklin, whose thick, stout fingers are not typical for a nimble guitar player such as himself, had such a purposeful stance on the stage. Holding his guitar with the same utilitarian violence that a farmer holding an animal being taken to slaughter does, Franklin was practically percussive in the way he pounded down chords.

“Pile Up” and “Son of Mustang Ford” followed with this dizzing energy — the type of kinetic devouring that leaves you a little unmoored — a pulling, quaking series of jolts and soars. Really good rock.

“Rave Down” had a meaty helping of guitar, but the vocals on that one seemed a little off at first. To be fair, it may have just seemed that way because my ear drums were blissfully in tatters by this point, unable to really absorb the human voice.

I’d argue that their first set, the album Raise, was more engaging on this level than their second album Mezcal Head. That’s probably for the best, though, as they were nearing a defibrillator-requiring energy anyway, and I don’t think the city of San Francisco, let alone Bimbo’s, has the medical staff to support a mass cardiac event on that scale. However, there were points that did race the pulse — Head’s “Duel” showcased their from-the-gut guitar sound, that sonic boom that bonds with all elements present.

It was certainly bonding with Jestine, who was bobbing gently to the music all through show, her eyes transfixed on the stage. There was a connection there. No phone was held up to capture the moment. No text to friends about the good time being had. It was a real moment, and that’s a powerful thing.

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