Swervedriver (photo: Patric Carver)
“Oh, man, look how young Jerry is,” breathed a young woman as she pointed at one of the Fillmore’s archival photographs of the Grateful Dead.
“They’re all young,” sneered her boyfriend, pieces of the iconic Fillmore-provided apple occupying his mouth as he spoke, his hand around her waist and his other hand looking up the Grateful Dead on his phone. “And, hun, that’s not Jerry, it’s Bob.”
“I don’t think I actually know any Dead songs,” the woman said as they went into the auditorium.
So began the evening.
I’m not criticizing anyone for not having an intimate knowledge of the Grateful Dead. I’ve never been a fan of their music (be still your pitchforks), but I do appreciate how they provided a safe, folksy passage for the teenagers of yesterday from the records of suburban church folk of their parents to the hazier and comparatively more dangerous world of rock and roll. Even though I’d never be mistaken for a Deadhead, I do tend to endear myself more to music, music fans, and musicians that are well-informed of the legacy of pop music.
OK, so maybe I was judging a little.
However clueless this couple may have been about the psychedelic forefathers of rock and roll, the crowd for the night definitely seemed tuned in, matching the rock intelligence of openers No Win and iconic second act Swervedriver.
No Win is a band that doesn’t require too much from the listener. If No Win were a male model, they would be described as having a boyish face with an athletic build. There’s an innocence about them, both lyrically and in terms of the charm of their hooks, but it’s coupled with this very tight, clean playing that is just very easy on the ear. There’s a math rock tinge to them that is reminiscent of some of Weezer’s earlier work with a dusting of nasal coming through in the otherwise strong vocals. Playing in support of their fifth album, Downey, I can see No Win has named themselves ironically, because their playing was top-notch.
It was a good night for people who like guitars used as instruments in their own right rather than just the filler of space, the carrier of song lyrics.
This only continued with Oxford heroes Swervedriver. Their latest album, Future Ruins, is a testament to the fact that there’s no reason to teach an old dog new tricks if you just train him correctly in the first place. Founding members Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge tore the theatre up with their grindhouse guitars. Some people think that a meat grinder might be an unpleasant place to dwell, but please don’t tell that to Hartridge and Franklin’s signature sound — a sludge that tears itself apart in the most lovely way.
“Mary Winter,” from Future, came out swinging as the band took to the stage, placing the bar high for the rest of their set and with each song measuring up. “Last Train to Satanville” and “99th Dream” were particularly amazing, but the closing song of the night, “Duel” from their 1993 album Mezcal Head was truly intoxicating. It’s got these plunging moments that bring the audience way down with it — simply beautiful.
In a place so haunted by rock gods of the past, it can be hard for current musicians to live up to the legends. No Win and Swervedriver definitely earned their place in the Fillmore’s history books.